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Appalling ‘nonmention’ of electricity in the Mindanao presidential debate

/ 12:18 AM March 10, 2016

While the first presidential debate held in Cagayan de Oro City last Feb. 21 may have given us a glimpse of the candidates’ positions on many pressing issues, it clearly exposed their lack of appreciation of the critical role of electricity in the day-to-day life of Filipinos and in the nation’s arduous climb to progress. There was hardly any mention, if at all, of electricity during the debate, which was appalling, considering that Mindanao has been grappling with a power crisis for some time now.

Inquirer’s Cielito Habito said it best in his column “Seven imperatives for the next president” (Opinion,  3/1/16) in describing the urgency of electricity issues: The need to prioritize a massive catch-up in infrastructure needs no further elaboration, as we all suffer from our massive inadequacies in this (lack of infrastructure) on a daily basis, be it in badly congested roads, unreliable and costly electric  (underscoring supplied), among others, if our country is not to fall into being the “sick man of Asia” anew.

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Unfortunately, in this campaign season, only three national candidates have, this far, called attention to the electricity issue, not surprisingly perhaps because they have roots in Eastern Visayas, home to the biggest geothermal reserves in the country. You may disagree with their recommendations but, at least, it is clear that electricity is high in their consciousness.

Lest I be misunderstood, this is not to make an endorsement. I am only stating a fact. (Disclosure: I am also from Leyte.) I am referring to Bongbong Marcos, an aspirant to the vice presidency, and senatorial candidates Martin Romualdez and Jericho “Icot” Petilla.

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Marcos has called for a constitutional amendment to ease up on foreign ownership restrictions for the purpose of encouraging investments, particularly in renewable energy, for the purpose of driving down power costs, adding that, “If we can drive power costs down, mothers can put more food on the table for their families” (“Let foreign energy firms in–Marcos,” Inquirer.net, 2/9/16).

Romualdez, whose province, Leyte,  suffered the worst devastation wrought by Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” wants a “revisit” of our country’s policy on coal-powered plants to help address the problem of climate change (“Romualdez pushes shift to  ‘green’ energy,” The Standard, 2/3/16).

Petilla, a former energy secretary who recognizes the many policy changes still needed to free up the power industry for more reforms that will directly and truly benefit the people, has made electricity the central issue of his campaign (as evident in his political ads) and has emerged as a champion of Filipino electricity consumers.

Indeed, even after 15 years of Electricity Power Industry Reform Act, despite its promise of adequate, stable, secure, least-cost, affordable supply of electricity, the Philippines still has one of the highest power rates in Asia, even as Mindanao continues to contend with blackouts that continue to see no end.

We hope that the next presidential debates will have more on electricity (a key factor in national development) and related issues.

—PETE L. ILAGAN, National  Association of Electricity Consumers for Reforms, [email protected]

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TAGS: Bongbong Marcos, Cagayan de Oro City, Elections 2016, Electricity, Electricity Power Industry Reform Act, Jericho Petilla, Leyte, Martin Romualdez, Mindanao, presidential debate, supertyphoon ‘yolanda’
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