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Gatchalian seeks Senate probe on frequent Palawan brownouts

PASAY CITY, Philippines – Senate Committee on Energy chairman Senator Win Gatchalian with Palawan 3rd District Rep. Gil Acosta at the committee hearing with officials of National Electrification Administration (NEA), Palawan Electric Cooperative (Paleco) and private energy stakeholders, 3 August 2017. Gatchalian is seeking for a deeper investigation into the frequent brownouts plaguing the province. Photo by Mark Cayabyab/OS WIN GATCHALIAN

Unsatisfied by the “shallow” probe conducted by the National Electrification Administration (NEA), Senator Win Gatchalian has filed a Senate resolution to spark a more in-depth investigation into the frequent brownouts that continue to plague the province of Palawan.

Proposed Senate Resolution No. 470, directing the appropriate Senate committee to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation on the matter, puts under scrutiny the compliance of the Palawan Electric Cooperative (PALECO) with the EPIRA Law (Republic Act No. 9136) and the performance of NEA as the regulator of electric cooperatives under Republic Act No. 10531.

“During the first six months of this year, Palawan residents suffered through an average of 13 brownout hours during 10 power interruptions per month. The Senate must exercise its oversight powers to hold stakeholders accountable and finally put an end to this mess,” said Gatchalian, the Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee.

At a formal dialogue held by the Energy Committee with PALECO, NEA, and private energy stakeholders last August 3, it was discovered that the frequent brownouts in Puerto Princesa City were caused by the inability of DMCI Power Corporation to provide 25 megawatts of electricity pledged under its 2012 power supply agreement with PALECO. As a result, the committee directed NEA to conduct an investigation into the matter.

However, the resolution states that the August 11, 2017 report submitted by NEA upon the conclusion of its investigation was “unsatisfactory as it failed to provide new information and specific action steps to put a stop to Palwan’s frequent brownouts.”

The senator pointed out that NEA’s charter, Republic Act No. 10531, empowers the agency to “formulate and impose administrative sanctions and penalties and when warranted, file criminal cases” against ECs found negligent of their obligations.

The law likewise authorized the NEA to “issue preventive or disciplinary measures including, but not limited to, suspension or removal and replacement of any or all of the members of the board of directors and officers of the electric cooperative, as the NEA may deem fit and necessary and to take any other remedial measures as the law or any agreement or arrangement with NEA may provide.”

However, the NEA report did not recommend disciplinary measures or penalties against the embattled PALECO for its delayed resolution of the worsening power situation in its covered areas. Instead, NEA passed on the task of disciplining the electric cooperative to the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

“Armed with the necessary powers and being the overall regulator of ECs in the country, NEA can do much more,” Gatchalian stressed.

He also reiterated the importance of addressing the worsening power situation in Palawan before it does any further damage to the provincial economy, especially its thriving tourism industry.

“The stunning beaches and ecological wonders of Palawan are the crown jewels of the Philippine tourism industry, and the responsible development of these resources is critical to fostering inclusive growth within the province. The longer these brownouts continue, the more the Palawan tourism industry will suffer,” said Gatchalian.