Philippine Congress to probe recent blackouts

PHILIPPINE lawmakers on Monday sought an investigation of recent blackouts on the main island of Luzon.

“These successive transmission system disturbances caused inconvenience to communities and losses to businesses,” Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian said in Senate Resolution 607.

“The National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP), as the operator of the transmission system in the country, should be held to account for the root cause of these disturbances,” he added.

The island experienced rotational blackouts on May 8 after the Luzon Grid was placed under red and yellow alerts by the NGCP due to the tripping of the Bolo-Masinloc 230-kilovolt (kV) Line 2.

The alerts also affected the transfer of  generated supply from the Luzon Grid to the Visayas Grid. On May 9, Manila Electric Co. also reported power supply cuts due to a “temporary system imbalance.”

Senator Ana Theresia “Risa” N. Hontiveros-Baraquel cited the need for the government and local enterprises to regain full ownership of the NGCP.

 “Chinese state-owned enterprises that have corporations in other countries are obligated under Chinese laws to collect information or intelligence for their government,” she told a news briefing.

“Based on expert testimony submitted during earlier Senate investigations, China acquired the upper hand in regulating the system functioning of the grid because it owns 40% of the consortium,” she said in a separate statement.

China, which claims more than 80% of the South China Sea, has ignored a 2016 ruling by a United Nations-backed arbitration court that voided its claim based on a 1940s map.

The Philippines, which is being backed by the United States, has been unable to enforce the ruling and has since filed hundreds of protests over what it calls encroachment and harassment by China’s coast guard.

Ms. Hontiveros said they were studying how the government could best regain 100% ownership of the NGCP.

Senator Mary Grace S. Poe-Llamanzares said her committee on public services is open to reviewing the NGCP’s congressional franchise, adding that power failures “should not be the norm.”

“We must also exercise vigilance when it comes to our power lines, to ensure that electricity running from Luzon to Mindanao remains under the control of Filipinos amid security concerns raised by senators,” she said in a separate statement.

At the House of Representatives, opposition lawmakers filed a House resolution for a separate probe of the blackouts. 

Albay Rep. Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda asked the Energy Regulatory Commission to conduct a performance audit of the NGCP by August.

“The NGCP is supposed to complete the Bataan-Hermosa line, the Cebu-Negros-Panay connection and the Mindanao-Visayas interconnection by August 2023,” he said in a statement. “I strongly urge an audit by the ERC by then. If not, we in Congress will do it.”

He also questioned the NGCP’s 3% gross tax rate given its “extreme profitability and laxity of performance.”

“In terms of national income taxes foregone, you are looking at a foregone revenue of around P4-5 billion every year,” said the congressmen, who heads the ways and means committee.

“That does not include foregone value-added tax on the national side, and foregone local business taxes on the local side.” — B.M.D. Cruz