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Outage ‘collusion’ under scrutiny

The Department of Justice and both houses of Congress have announced separate investigations into the recent power outages, with Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra vowing to look into the possible collusion by power generating companies.

Guevarra said while he has yet to receive a formal directive from Malacañang to conduct an investigation, he is ready to instruct the National Bureau of Investigation to look into the allegations.

Guevarra issued the statement after the Department of Energy presented the power outlook to the Cabinet Assistance System.

The DOE said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles has instructed the DOJ, the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to coordinate with the Energy department for case build up and the possible filing of economic sabotage charges.

The DOE earlier said power generation companies that reported prolonged outages in their plants could face charges of anti-competitive behavior and economic sabotage for violating government-enforced laws and policies.

Those likely to be investigated are power generating companies whose facilities are on extended shutdown – including those that performed unplanned maintenance that led to rotational brownouts in Luzon.

The DOJ noted that power plants violated the DOE ban on the conduct of preventive maintenance in the second quarter of the year due to a spike in electricity demand during that period.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, meanwhile, called for a Senate inquiry to find a long-term solution to electricity supply shortages, especially during summer.

In filing Senate Resolution No. 740, Gatchalian underscored the role of the DOE in ensuring the quality, reliability, security, and affordability of electricity.

“This is a critical situation and I would like to request the Department of Energy to get all hands on deck especially in the next coming days because from the forecast that I am seeing, there will be a problem of load dropping in the next eight days,” said Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate energy committee.

He stressed that it is crucial to hold DOE to account for its failure to address power supply shortages since 2016 and provide long-term solutions to this problem.

“Considering that the issue has been a recurring problem in the past five years, it’s high time that long-term solutions be finally put in place,” he said.

Gatchalian noted 339,000 households from 90 barangays in 16 LGUs lost their electricity on June 1, including two vaccination centers in Valenzuela.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon slammed the DOE for shifting blame to private power companies for its failure to avert power outages.

“Blame-shifting won’t solve the power crisis,” Drilon told the DOE as he aired his support for a Senate investigation.

Drilon said the DOE is planning to file charges of economic sabotage against private power companies for allegedly conducting preventive maintenance from April to June that resulted in power outages in several parts of Luzon including Metro Manila. 

“The move is an attempt to shift away the blame from the government which, obviously, failed to prepare for these power outages over the last five years. The DOE is only using power plants as scapegoats for what happened. It’s a cover-up,” Drilon said.

“It’s disappointing. Blame everyone except yourself. Where is accountability?” Drilon said.

Senator Francis Pangilinan asked for evidence of economic sabotage.

“What is their evidence? It is the duty and responsibility of DOE to fully explain their basis and evidence in their accusations."

Senator Manny Pacquiao had earlier called out the “incompetence” of Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi to prepare the country for serious power shortages.

In the House of Representatives, the chairman of the committee on energy said his panel would conduct an inquiry into the current power supply and demand situation and the cause of the recent rotational brownouts.

The committee chaired by Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo will conduct the congressional inquiry after the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines warned of a looming power crisis when it placed the entire Luzon grid under red alert due to insufficient power supply.

Arroyo said the inquiry is aimed at threshing out the cause of power shortage and coming up with recommendations to solve the problem.

He said the country could ill afford the rotational brownouts as it prepared to roll out more COVID-19 vaccines, which need to be stored in cold temperatures.

He also said power was crucial when face-to-face classes have given way to online learning.

“Without power, students will not have access to the internet. They won't even be able to power up their computers or other learning gadgets,” Arroyo said.

Cusi on Thursday apologized for the two days of rotating brownouts experienced by the Luzon grid due to the simultaneous outage of power plants amid increased demand due to higher temperatures.

Cusi said the country's power supply situation normalized on Thursday and the DOE is conducting its investigations in cooperation with the ERC and the PCC.

The ERC, meanwhile, has asked NGCP to explain the causes of delays of various transmission projects it sought approval from the regulator.

“We have directed the NGCP to explain in detail the changes in the timeline and the events or activities that led to the modification of the transmission projects’ completion," ERC chairperson Agnes Devanadera said in a statement Thursday.

"The NGCP’s explanation will shed light on the status and reasons for the delay of the completion of the 33 transmission projects that we have already approved," Devanadera said.

NGCP spokesperson Cynthia Perez Alabansa said they would cooperate with the regulator.

Topics: Department of Justice , Menardo Guevarra , Alfonso Cusi , Department of Energy
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