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Duterte: Fear not Sino role in power grid

President Rodrigo Duterte has brushed aside the claim that China is capable of controlling the Philippines’ power grid, adding he still trusts Beijing.

READ: ‘China can paralyze PH energy supply’

This came after retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, along with some lawmakers, raised concerns over China’s co-ownership of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines a private consortium that has been operating the country’s power lines since 2009.

The CNN earlier reported the system was currently “under the full control” of the Chinese government, which has the “full capability to disrupt national power systems.”

“There are security issues that can be handled by the military. [Cannot] be a problem. The tower? I will just blow that up. I will cut the cable, it’s over,” Duterte told reporters Thursday night.

According to the CNN report, only Chinese engineers had access to key elements of the system, and that power could in theory be deactivated remotely on Beijing’s orders.

The Chinese government had previously denied that it is capable of controlling the Philippines’ power infrastructure.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said the Chinese partner only offers technical support to the Philippine side upon request.

“The allegation of China’s control over the Philippines’ power grid or threat to the country’s national security is completely groundless,” Geng said.

READ: China: Grid security fears ‘groundless’

After dismissing the allegations as groundless, the official asked the public to look at the cooperation between the Philippines and China “in an open, objective and impartial manner.”

“There is no need to worry about the sky falling or imagine trouble where there is none,” Geng said.

“The Philippines is China’s close and friendly neighbor as well as an important partner. We support Chinese businesses’ pursuit of practical, win-win cooperation in the Philippines in accordance with

laws and regulations,” he said.

NGCP, which is in charge of operating, maintaining, and developing the Philippines’ state-owned power grid, is a consortium of three corporations—Monte Oro Grid Resources Corp., Calaca High Power Corp., and the State Grid Corporation of China, with the SGCC as its technical partner.

During a recent audit of the Joint Congressional Energy Commission, Senator Risa Hontiveros revealed that lawmakers would “review and evaluate the performance of the NGCP,” as well as investigate reports alleging that China may control and remotely shut down the country’s power transmission system.

The National Grid Corp. of the Philippines is 40 percent controlled by State Grid Corp. of China. The remaining 60 percent is controlled by Filipino businessmen.

NGCP operates the country’s transmission network through its concession agreement with the government.

“I cannot fight China because I do not have the armaments. And China has talked to us, through me. Kulang pa ang Pilipino ng trust. But I trust them. I take their word for it,” Duterte said when asked about China possibly shutting down the country’s transmission network in a press conference late Thursday.

Duterte also said there were “no issues to worry about going to war with China.”

“And if I’m going to war with China even and the main complaint would be ‘yung diyan sa Spratly. Kung mag-giyera tayo, in one hour tapos ang ating Armed Forces,” the President said. 

Duterte also reiterated the Philippines had no capability to go to war against China.

READ: Filipinos exclusively control transmission grid, says NGCP

Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, however, said China could “potentially” shut down the grid.

“Unfortunately NGCP has been uncooperative to open itself for an audit to once and for all answer the issue. They even prevented and continue not to allow TransCo (National Transmission Corp.) from inspecting the control centers and how they use the other infrastructure under their control,” he said.

Cusi wants  a full independent audit with appropriate agencies of government properly represented and has already directed TransCo to write NGCP regarding this matter.

Cusi said DOE’s position was that the systems operations, a key function of NGCP, should be recovered by the government for the reason that a private company or a private individual should not be given the control over the most critical infrastructure of the state—the transmission grid network—capable of transmitting power and digital data. 

“Systems operations comprises just about six percent of the whole transmission business. It is not critical to the business of NGCP. It should not have been included in the concession contract in the first place. However, it is critical for the existence of the State,” the energy chief said.

The consortium of Monte Oro Grid Resources Corp., Calaca High Power Corp., and the State Grid as technical partner, won the 25-year concession in 2007 to operate the country’s power transmission network after an open, public, and competitive bidding process. 

It was the biggest government auction conducted in efforts to reform the local power sector.

NGCP officially started operations as power transmission service provider in 2009. 

Under a congressionally-granted 50-year franchise, NGCP has the right to operate and maintain the transmission system and related facilities, and the right of eminent domain necessary to construct, expand, maintain, and operate the transmission system.

Duterte has been criticized since he sought closer investment and trade ties with Beijing, including over resources in the disputed sea, since he became president in 2016.

China‘s aggressiveness in the South China Sea also sparked anti-China sentiments among Filipinos.

“This is not a brief for China. We don’t have issues to worry about going to war with China,” Duterte told reporters.

A recent poll by the Social Weather Stations showed that China remains to be the least trusted country among Filipinos, with a net trust rating of -33 points or  a rating of “bad.”

Duterte also slammed Carpio, adding that the retired magistrate is “so enamored with China.”

Carpio was part of the Philippine delegation in the arbitration against China’s expansive claims over the South China Sea before the United Nations-backed tribunal.

In July 2016, the arbitral tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines, invalidating Beijing’s historic nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea.

The President recently said that Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to give the Philippines a bigger share of the revenues from the exploration project as long as it sets aside the arbitral award that nullified China’s claims in the disputed area.

The government, however, refused to abandon the arbitral ruling on the South China Sea dispute in favor of pursuing the joint venture as it vowed to address the maritime conflict through peaceful negotiations with Beijing.

Meanwhile, Senator Win Gatchalian has filed three more resolutions in his desire to probe NGCP.

He noted that several  hearings by the Senate Energy Committee and the Joint Congressional Energy Commission show concerns which adversely affect the quality, reliability, and security of the supply of electric power.

He underscored the need for a Senate probe so that Congress be made aware of the operations of the grid and to ensure accountability on the part of NGCP as it performs its duties and functions as the system operator.

After last week’s filing of Senate Resolution 219 seeking to scrutinize  the NGCP’s mandate in safeguarding the grid amid national security concerns, Gatchalian said the NGCP as system operator was responsible for the connection and operational requirements for the introduction of variable energy in the grid, contracting reserves, the timely build of necessary transmission facilities based on the Transmission Development Plan.

It is also responsible for the faithful operation and maintenance of the transmission and sub-transmission facilities, and other assets which constitute the national grid.

In Senate Resolution 225, Gatchalian wants to probe the creation and timely implementation of the Transmission Development Plan to ensure that the expansion of the electric power transmission grid is responsive to accommodate new power generation facilities in order to meet increase in electricity demand.

The creation and implementation of Transmission Development Plan is crucial to ensure that transmission projects go hand in hand with new power plant projects.

Data from the Department of Energy show that the Philippines will need 43,765 MW additional capacity by 2040. 

As of September 2019, there are 33 delayed NGCP transmission line projects which may curtail accommodation of approximately 15,545.4 MW of committed and indicative capacity in the grid.

Senate Resolution 226 aims to check the compliance of the Energy Regulatory Commission with its commitment to resolve with urgency the pending issues of the transmission grid operator for the benefit of all electric power end users.

Senate Resolution 227 is in response to the ongoing concerns over potential Chinese interference in the country’s power transmission line through the China-owned State Grid Corporation, which has a 40-percent stake in the NGCP.

The chairman of the Senate Energy Committee has earlier expressed concerns that there is a need to verify whether Filipinos, not Chinese, are in charge of the day-to-day management of the grid because with just a single switch, no electricity will be transmitted to our homes, businesses and even to our military facilities.

On Thursday, Duterte said the military could handle the security issues that might arise from country’s power grid being handled by a company partly owned by a Chinese state firm.

The head of the National Transmission Corp. confirmed in a Senate plenary deliberation that the country’s power grid could be turned off remotely.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry earlier said the security concerns were “completely groundless.”

READ: NGCP puts Luzon grid on yellow alert

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , Antonio Carpio , China , Energy Regulatory Commission
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