SPONSORSHIP SPEECH: Anti-Obstruction of Power Lines Act of 2018

SPONSORSHIP SPEECH: Anti-Obstruction of Power Lines Act of 2018

Sponsorship Speech

Senate Bill No. 2098 / Committee Report No. 499


November 21, 2018 at 3 o’clock in the afternoon

Session Hall, Senate of the Philippines


Delivered by HON. WIN GATCHALIAN, Senator of the Republic:


Mr. President, honorable colleagues in the Senate, good afternoon.


Electricity is one of the most important technological innovations developed by man. It has become an integral part of our lives – one we often take for granted, but cannot live without. Most, if not all of our devices at home and at work, run on electricity. In simple and practical terms, our cellphones, desktop computers, laptops, tablets run on electricity. The automated teller machines or ATMs we use to withdraw money from needs electricity to function. The world would be enveloped in darkness every night were it not for the lights powered by electricity.


Such is the importance of electricity that power outages can become a matter of  national security when vital installations such as airports, police and military bases, and telecommunication facilities lose power. Power loss may even be a matter of life or death, as is the case when the electric supply of hospitals gets cut off.


We better understand the importance of electricity in our lives during a few minutes of power outages we encounter once in a while. Who among us has not panicked when our smartphones and mobile devices flash that dreaded “low battery” sign while there is a power outage? Or who hasn’t felt despair when the power goes out while you’re in the middle of writing something on your computer and you find out afterwards that none of what you’ve already written was saved? Or when you’re in desperate need of cash but can’t withdraw because there’s a city-wide blackout?


Indeed, nowadays, losing electric power even for just a short time feels like going back to the Dark Ages, because we need electricity to communicate, we need electricity to travel, we need electricity for us to live normal lives and for society to function normally.


Unfortunately, Filipinos are thrown back into the Dark Ages far too often due to obstructions caused to power lines. These obstructions include activities near power lines such as burning of waste and other materials, building of structures, and intentional planting of trees, as well as refusing access to power lines for maintenance and repair.  This year alone, we already had 168 instances of power outages, totaling 1,426.11 hours, due to right of way issues with transmission lines. This is equal to more than 1.5 million kWh of unserved energy because individuals refused entry to the transmission operator to conduct clearance operations for vegetation management.  This is alarming because the year is not yet over and already we have almost thrice the duration of outages compared to 2017 at 565.71 hours, and almost four times the duration outages compared to 2016 at 396.11 hours.  All these outages were all due to right of way issues with transmission lines.


To address this issue, Mr. President, the measure I am sponsoring today will ensure that the conveyance of electricity from power plants all the way to the end users – consumers, businesses, and vital installations in the country – will be uninterrupted.


Recognizing the continuous conveyance of electricity as a matter of national security and as central to economic development, Senate Bill 2098 under Committee Report No. 499, provides that the power line corridor – including the land beneath, the air spaces surrounding, and the area traversed by power lines, including its horizontal, vertical, and similar clearance requirements – shall, at all times, be kept clear and free from any obstructions, dangerous structures, hazardous activities, or any similar circumstance that shall impede the continuous flow of electricity. This power line corridor shall be determined by the Board of Electrical Engineering and approved by the Department of Energy, in accordance with the Philippine Electrical Code.


The proposed bill gives power line owners and operators the right, subject to proper privacy safeguards, to enter property to prevent and remove any obstruction; conduct maintenance, inspection, repair, and restoration activities; stop, prevent, or prohibit the conduct of hazardous activities; conduct trimming, pruning, cutting, and clearing of plants and trees as well as gathering, collecting, and removing of timber without securing prior clearance or permit from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Philippine Coconut Authority, whenever applicable; and perform other analogous acts or activities which prevent and remove any power line obstruction.


The proposed measure also penalizes prohibited acts including the planting of tall growing plants, the construction of hazardous improvements, and the conduct of any hazardous activities all within the power line corridor.  Moreover, the prevention or refusal to allow the entry of duly authorized agents of the power line owner or operator in the performance of their duties is considered a prohibited act.


The bill further outlines the duties and responsibilities of power line owners and operators in the prevention and removal of any obstructions to power lines in public property.  When it comes to private property, the bill highlights the collaborative role of private property owners and the power line owner and operator by giving the former the duty to prevent power line obstructions, and to inform, coordinate, and assist the latter in the removal of such obstructions.  The power line owner or operator are also required to inform, educate, and communicate to individuals and communities the danger of existing power line obstructions, the urgrency of removing them, and the manner of preventing them.


These power line owners and operators are further authorized to seek the assistance of local government officials, the Philippine National Police, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the discharge of their duties.


To illustrate how this bill will boost the reliability of the power grid, Mr. President, let us remember what happened in Zamboanga a couple of years ago. Now, plants may seem harmless, but the power failure that struck the entire Zamboanga peninsula in September 2016 was caused by banana trees planted intentionally and maliciously along transmission lines. This caused a line-to-ground fault that tripped high voltage lines, according to the transmission operator. This incident caused the entire Zamboanga peninsula to lose power, including areas served by seven (7) electric cooperatives.  The transmission operator explained that it conducted right-of-way clearing activities in that area way back in February 2016, except for a small patch of land between two towers located on the property of a landowner who refused access for maintenance activities.  Because of such refusal, the power failure in Zamboanga happened.  If passed into law, this bill will prevent such occurrences from happening again in the future.


Mr. President, if there is to be any energy-related lesson to be learned from typhoons Yolanda and Lawin, which plunged large swaths of the Visayas and Northern Luzon into darkness due to extensive damage to power transmission and distribution lines, it is that keeping power line corridors clear and free from any obstruction or potential debris will minimize the risk of power lines getting damaged during natural calamities. This, in turn, would lessen the time it would take to repair damaged lines and restore power to affected areas.


As the adage goes, prevention is always better than cure. With the approval of this measure, we shall put in place a mechanism that will allow for the undisturbed maintenance and rehabilitation of transmission, sub-transmission, and distribution lines. With this in mind, I hope for the immediate passage of this measure.


Thank you, Mr. President.