The Senate Committee on Energy is set to take up a bill which aims to shore up the resiliency of the country’s electric cooperatives against the constant barrage of natural disasters which often wreak havoc on electricity infrastructure throughout the Philippine countryside.
Senate Bill No. 1253, otherwise known as the Electric Cooperatives Disaster Management Fund Act, proposes the establishment of a PHP 750 million fund which would provide financial assistance to electric cooperatives for restoration and rehabilitation of power facilities and infrastructure damaged during typhoons, earthquakes, and other instances of natural calamities and fortuitous events.
Senator Win Gatchalian, Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee and principal author of Senate Bill No. 1253, explained that without a dedicated funding source for disaster repairs and rehabilitations, electric cooperatives have no choice but to seek interest-bearing calamity loans from NEA.
These calamity loans can take as long as two years to be converted into grants, and sometimes the loans are not converted at all due to budgetary constraints.
“Under the current system, electric co-ops often have no choice but to pass on the costs of these calamity loans to consumers, resulting in higher power rates for people who are already struggling to put their lives back together in the wake of a calamity. Essentially, it’s like handing out relief goods to calamity survivors and then asking them to pay for them later. This is a problem that needs to be addressed,” said Gatchalian.
Aside from disaster restoration and rehabilitation efforts, the fund will also be used to finance disaster prevention, preparedness, and mitigation projects to be undertaken by electric cooperatives, including disaster vulnerability risk assessments and institutionalization of emergency response plans.
“The best medicine is always prevention. Therefore, the Electric Cooperatives Disaster Management Fund Act also aims to equip electric cooperatives with the resources they need to minimize damage caused by future storms and other natural disasters through the exercise of foresight and diligence,” said Gatchalian.