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Sen. Gatchalian hits DOE for lack of disaster mitigation, rehabilitation protocol

Senator Gatchalian makes a strong statement at a recent conference​ in this file photo. The lawmaker is demanding the Department of Energy to come up with a disaster mitigation and preparedness protocol that will ensure proper energy supply in times of calamities. (Photo by Mark Cayabyab)

Senator Win Gatchalian on Thursday chided the Department of Energy (DOE) for its lack of an official protocol to help electric cooperatives prepare for and recover from typhoons and other natural disasters which cause prolonged power outages in affected service areas.

Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy, was taken aback by the admission of DOE Director Cesar dela Fuente that the agency does not have a protocol in place for disaster mitigation and preparedness.

“The DOE is the overall guardian of the energy sector, and yet you are doing nothing to help electric cooperatives prepare for and respond to calamities,” Gatchalian lamented during the hearing conducted by the Senate Committee on Energy to discuss Senate Bill No. 1253, otherwise known as the Electric Cooperatives Disaster Management Fund Act.

When pressed further, Dela Fuente said a circular had been issued towards the end of 2016 that lays down the guidelines for disaster preparation, management and rehabilitation in the energy sector. However, the circular is still being reviewed by the DOE’s legal unit.

Gatchalian directed Dela Fuente to furnish the committee a copy of the protocol as soon as possible.

SB 1253, authored by Gatchalian, seeks to address the inability of disaster-affected electric cooperatives to undertake speedy restoration and rehabilitation efforts of power facilities in their covered areas by providing them with financial assistance in the amount of P750 million, to be known as the Electric Cooperatives Disaster Management Fund.

The funding, the senator said, can likewise be used by the cooperatives to adequately prepare for natural disasters, undertake a disaster vulnerability risk assessment, and create an emergency response plan.

“Our electric cooperatives play a significant role in the electrification of our country, and that is why this committee is trying to address this: because anything can happen, anytime,” Gatchalian stressed.