A reason to hope
Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla has put his job on the line with the promise to restore by Christmas Eve power supply in vast areas in Eastern Visayas ravaged by Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” Restoring electricity to the region will be more than just symbolic. “Energizing” far-flung communities is a life-changing event for the people living there. With electricity comes progress. On the other hand, living literally in the dark is quite tragic. Darkness has come to be associated with criminality, and the rise in robbery cases, even rape, in the darkened communities in Leyte is proof of this.
Restoring electricity in Eastern Visayas is a huge task for an agency that is short on funds and saddled with the enormous damage to power infrastructure caused by the strongest typhoon to ever hit land. As of last week, the Department of Energy has estimated that more than 1,000 transmission line towers and electric poles were downed by Yolanda. Petilla said his department would need at least P1 billion to restore electricity in the devastated areas. Add to this the fact that the 650-megawatt Unified Leyte geothermal power plants—the main source of electricity for the islands of Leyte and Samar—had been knocked out. The company that operates the facilities, the Lopez-owned Energy Development Corp., cannot provide a time frame within which to put the plants back in operation. All it would say was that it “is exerting all best efforts to return all the power plants back to service at the soonest possible time [and that it] will be unrelenting in its efforts to ensure that its power plants resume operation at the soonest practicable time.”
Still, the energy secretary has many reasons to be enthusiastic. On the problem of funding, he pointed to the controversial Malampaya Fund as a possible source. The DOE is now looking into the legality of using part of the Fund for the restoration of damaged transmission lines, and Petilla said he had brought the matter to President Aquino’s attention. Petilla said that because the repair of transmission facilities may be considered energy-related, it would not go against the Supreme Court ruling that the Malampaya Fund should be used only for energy-related projects and not “for such other purposes as may be … directed by the President.”
More than this, Petilla’s optimism to meet his Dec. 24 target was brought about by the availability of personnel and equipment to complete the work. He is happy that volunteers from Mindanao electric cooperatives will help restore power in the region, all in the traditional bayanihan spirit, and that the materials and equipment for the national government’s barangay electrification program are available for use in the repair of damaged lines and poles. Also, Manila Electric Co. has promised assistance—a great boost, according to Petilla, because it has the equipment and expertise. Once Meralco personnel arrive in Eastern Visayas, he expects to have at least 200 people working on power restoration. And National Grid Corp. of the Philippines, which operates the transmission lines across the country, has also reported that by Dec. 9, all its towers would be back in operation.
Petilla’s promise to the typhoon survivors came with an appeal to the people of Luzon, who were spared by Yolanda, to help by conserving electricity. Conservation will allow the national grid something extra with which to supply the Visayas.
Aside from donations in cash and in kind to the millions dislocated by Yolanda, Metro Manilans and the rest of us in Luzon can pitch in by conserving power, especially at this time when the competition arises for the brightest house or building, or even the best-lit city or municipality. “It’s hard to celebrate Christmas without electricity,” Petilla observed in a television interview. “My point here is [that] at least during Christmas, [the people in Eastern Visayas will] have electricity … because the first sign of hope is always electricity.”
We can do our share in giving the people of Eastern Visayas who lost nearly everything to Yolanda a reason to hope in this season of giving.
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