Palawan’s congressional representatives are calling for a  probe on the Palawan Electric Cooperative (PALECO) and the power situation in the province, in light of the frequent blackouts that are being experienced in its service or franchise area.

The pronouncement has stirred another round of passionate reactions from electric consumers, emboldened by social media platforms, who have since been dumping daily rants on the electric cooperative responsible for all these frequent blackouts of late.

It was not too long ago when President Rodrigo Duterte came to Palawan for a visit, and during an impromptu speech at the Mendoza Park, blasted at PALECO. He warned that the cooperative must shape up by the end of that year, 2015, lest the government will have private entities take over. He even hinted at Chinese business interests who were just waiting at the wings but did not go into details.

There wasn’t exactly a direct follow-through on the Duterte threat against PALECO. What happened was a move from the National Electrification Administration (NEA) to take over its top managerial post, the seat of the PALECO general manager. Hence even with a duly constituted Board of Directors, the cooperative has since been under the effective control of the NEA. Yet meanwhile, on the frequency of power outages, nothing has changed.

Government interventions on the management of PALECO date back even further. Before President Duterte’s rant in 2018, the provincial government had moved to undercut the PALECO franchise. In 2018, congressional leaders were asked by the provincial leadership to file a bill in Congress granting a new franchise to a private entity called MORE Palawan Power Corporation. The idea, according to Governor Jose Alvarez at that time, was to bring in a private group with the financial muscle to deal with the technical and managerial challenges of power distribution in the island province.

If PALECO solely deserves the blame that comes from its member-consumers, the call for another congressional inquiry may as well be an opportunity to break it down to specifics. They may be able to identify sensible solutions in solving the problem of the frequent blackouts.

But as experience had educated us so far, the power crisis is a complex problem that involves not only PALECO but the entire power sector itself – the Department of Energy and the NEA, the National Power Corporation, and the independent power producers in the province.

The inquiry is an open-ended process, and whether or not the old agenda of dissolving the PALECO franchise remains on the table was not articulated in this forthcoming probe. A meaningful probe should include the rest of the players in the power sector as well.

The probe is welcome so that maybe we can all understand what has happened to so many plans and agreements forged before that were supposed to improve Palawan’s power situation.

Note that we did come up with a seemingly rational energy master plan in 2014, the so-called Palawan Island Power Development Plan, with policy directions along the line of addressing not only PALECO’s distribution system but more importantly producing the sufficient energy that is needed by the province. There was even a JICA study over a decade ago that had identified the potential of developing hydropower in Palawan and had prescribed ways forward for both the DOE and the PGP to pursue.

It is unfortunate that most of these plans had not worked out and had been left gathering shelf dust. What is left are the old agenda and posturings that don’t necessarily promise lasting solutions.