A group of concerned individuals urged the public Tuesday to hold the Palawan Electric Cooperative (Paleco) accountable for the frequent island-wide power outages, particularly on November 27.
Known as the Member-Consumer-Owner or MCO Against Brown-outs, the coalition comprises individuals from diverse societal segments. This includes Antonio Magbanua Jr., Antonio Cabrestante, and Raul Grande, who are part of the power cooperative’s Technical Working Group (TWG) established in May to review Articles of Cooperation and Bylaws.
Other members include private individuals such as Arthur Ventura, Noriam Gabo, and Johnny Fabello, a former general manager for Paleco.
During the press conference, they cited several reasons for Paleco’s alleged poor performance recently, especially the four power outages on Monday, which occurred outside the general maintenance activities conducted by the National Power Corporation (Napocor).
The most recent blackout in Palawan occurred on Wednesday, starting at 11:05 a.m. and was resolved by 2:47 p.m. This total grid outage was triggered by a lightning strike on a transmission line in Irawan, leading to the tripping of power plants.
The cause was said to be a circuit break in the DMCI Thermal Plant located in Narra. The preceding three outages were linked to changes in Delta P’s transmission line, likely due to a fault in the line connecting Napocor and Paleco.
The coalition identified several factors contributing to PALECO’s unreliable performance. These factors include outdated and exposed distribution lines that are prone to short-circuiting. Incidents occur when tree leaves, branches, or small animals such as birds and lizards come into contact with the wires.
“Luma na mga linya, ayan ang mga distribution lines dapat may cover. Sila na rin magsabi na dapat may brownout, para kahit kagatin ng bayawak o kapitan ng tuko or nasagi ng dahon ng niyog, hindi magba-brownout. Kailangan po palitan (…) ang ating linya ng insulated,” Cabrestante said.
The coalition cited other reasons, such as the outdated or inadequate training provided to their engineers and linemen, and the non-competitive salaries offered to their workers.
They suggested that new hires should be trained abroad, but acknowledged that Paleco might lack the necessary funds for this due to the alleged misallocation of funds.
These funds were purportedly used for the Board of Directors’ travel to seminars, which reportedly did not result in any significant innovations or technical knowledge being brought back to Paleco.
Cabrestante, who was part of the TWG attending Paleco’s 41st annual general assembly and meeting, said that he nearly stopped the authorization of the cooperative’s capital expenditure because the paperwork had incomplete sections.
“Hindi naman nakasaad doon kung saan gagamitin yung pera. Kapag naimplement na, mababawasan ba ang brownout? Pinresent nila nung general assembly, hinarang ko po iyon. Itong [general manager] tiklop-luhod, di daw uusad ang proyekto ng PALECO kapag hindi naaprubahan ang capital expenditure. Kaya binawi ko ang pagtututol,” Cabrestante said.
Fabello also reminded that one of Paleco’s power supply agreements (PSA) is set to expire in 2025, a situation that could impact the Palawan grid. Additionally, electric bills are expected to rise for November and December due to the emergency PSA with one supplier.
Currently, Palawan’s power is sourced from three suppliers: PPGI, supplying 13 MW; DMCI Power Inc., providing 35 MW; and Delta P, contributing 20 MW.
The 20 MW from Delta P was anticipated to compensate for the loss resulting from the expiration of PPGI’s contract in 2025. However, a 2016 Supreme Court ruling determined that PSAs approved by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) without undergoing a public competitive selection process, as mandated by the Department of Energy (DOE), should be immediately terminated. Consequently, Delta P’s PSA, along with 90 others nationwide, was halted.
Since DMCI Power Inc. alone cannot supply the additional 20 MW, Delta P agreed to an emergency PSA with Paleco for one year, offering a rate not subsidized by the government.
Fabello expressed hope that other groups and individuals would demand accountability from Paleco. This includes securing a new power supplier, updating cables and machinery, and allocating funds for training and additional compensation for engineers and linemen, who risk their lives repairing faulty wiring.