Imbak para sa Pebrero, 2014


Last Valentines Day, thousands of Filipino families had a candle-lit dinner, not because they wanted to romantically celebrate that day but because they can’t afford to pay their power bills anymore. Sad to say, they joined the 1.6 billion people in the developing world who don’t have access to electricity, another alarming statistics.

For the ordinary Filipino workers who earn not more than $10.35 USD wage per day (this is lower if you work outside Metro Manila), which is not even enough to meet the $21.24 USD daily minimum cost of living in a family with six members, they must set aside almost one week worth of wages just to pay the average household electricity consumption of 200kWh.

It’s not just that, the biggest energy and power distribution company in the country, Meralco, is planning to have series of electricity rate increases in the following months. And the government is not doing any serious steps to stop this from happening (issuing a temporary restraining order is not enough). Yes, you heard that right; a bigger chunk of the already-meager-income of the Filipino masses will go to electric bills and will be taken away from food, education and healthcare budgets. This is what we call “energy poverty.”

This move will exacerbate the poverty situation in the Philippines. High electricity rates will keep local and foreign investors away, along with the thousands of jobs that they can offer. If parents can’t find jobs, how can they send their children to school? If children can’t get good education, how can they change their future? If people in more developed areas can’t afford to pay electricity, how much more in the less developed areas of the country? Then the poverty cycle will just go on and on and on until a time God only knows when.

With a monstrous price of $0.23 per kWh, the Philippines is now holding another notorious record — the highest electricity rates in Asia. Good job! We even beat more developed countries like South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. And probably, Philippines would really want to set the bar higher seeing electric rates hike in the coming months.

Why is this happening in a country with 7, 107 islands with vast natural resources? History will help us connect the dots.

In 1970’s, the government foresee that the demand for energy will rise. To ensure enough generating capacity in the future, former President Ferdinand Marcos initiated two major energy projects: the Chico River Hydroelectric Plant (the cleanest possible source of energy) and the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (the cheapest source of energy).

However, in 1986, after the Marcos regime was overthrown by famous People Power Revolution, these two ambitious energy plans were abolished by the newly elected President Cory Aquino without any alternative energy plan. This move had resulted to daily brownouts that lasted for hours in the late eighties and early nineties, preventing economic growth in that period.

The country’s energy sufficiency was restored during the term of former President Fidel Ramos in 1992. Unfortunately, it was restored by putting-up power plants fueled by oil that produced energy at the highest cost, not to mention that it was funded by profit greedy investors. This was when we started paying expensive electric bills.

In 2001, the darkest era in the power industry history of the Philippines has began, when the government under the auspices of the former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo surrendered the control of the power industry to the private sectors like Meralco and other independent power producers (IPPs) by passing a law. This law made the power industry an open arena to anyone with capital in the hope that competition would eventually lower the electric cost.

But there was no “real” competition that took place, given the fact that only five corporations dominate the country’s power industry since then. Instead of competing, they connived to manipulate the power market for their mutual benefits. Instead of pulling down the electric cost, they connived to make it more than double its original price thirteen years ago: from $0.11 USD per kWh in 2001, to $0.23 USD per kWh in 2010, to additional $0.10 this year. This is a perfect example why I believe that POWER TRIPPING is more fun in the Philippines!

How can we stop this from happening? What should we do to lower the country’s extremely high electricity cost? Start developing our renewable energy potentials to reduce our dependence to imported fossil fuels? Resurrect our long defunct Bataan Nuclear Power Plant for cheaper energy? Or start mining our proven 138 million barrel of oil reserves and 3.48 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves?

I strongly believe that all of these will not solve the skyrocketing price of electricity problem if the ownership and control of the power industry will remain in the hands of the few elites that have inherent greed for profits.

The government should realize that electricity is vital to end the cycle of poverty in the country and to achieve sustainable development. Therefore, they should seize control and ownership of the power industry once again to ensure that all succeeding generations of Filipinos will have access to sufficient, affordable and efficient electricity.