29 Jan Department of Energy to Form Task Force in Answer to Mindanao Transmission Tower Incidents
The Department of Energy (DOE) through Secretary Zenaida Y. Monsada has recently announced that they will be forming a task force specifically to address the energy problems of Mindanao that is endangering not only the coming elections but also regional economies as well. This move is in the wake of the almost regular bombings and burning of transmission lines and towers by what the government called “lawless elements.” To date, a total of 15 towers have been destroyed or heavily damaged. On top of this are the more than 140 incidents of property owners refusing to allow NGCP personnel into their properties to repair transmission lines and towers, citing that the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) has not paid lease for several years now.
These incidents in totality is one of the main reasons for the rotating power outages that has hit almost the whole of Mindanao last year and is still being experienced in central and western Mindanao. The proposed task force will comprise elements from the DOE, NGCP, National Power Corporation (NPC), National Transmission Corporation (TransCo), and all power and energy assets and cooperatives operating in affected areas. Its security component will be made up of elements from the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Philippine National Police (PNP), and the Department of National Defense (DND). The task force is not only tasked to ensure there is enough electricity for the coming May elections but to also secure local communities where power transmission lines go through to prevent future power interruptions.
Many sectors however, especially in Cagayan de Oro City, are skeptical about this move given the penchant of the national government to resort often to “rubber band” and “band aid” solutions to solve long term problems. According to our close but reliable resources in the involved national government offices, the first problem is not acknowledging the “lawless elements” that are the root of the problem. A few of the transmission tower atrocities were caused by elements of the New People’s Army (NPA) as a strategic way of drawing away military resources from other areas so the NPA can set up operations to disrupt the coming May elections. This fact could not be acknowledged in the face of the recent negotiation talks between local government units and the NPA to free Philippine Army prisoners-of-war (POW). Said POW’s were eventually released in stages.
Another factor that could not be acknowledged is that most bombings were actually caused by elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters (BFF) because this could derail efforts to get the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) approved in Congress. In short, the basis alone of the task force falls short since the root causes could not be acknowledged due to political reasons. Also, many sectors question the timing of the task force just because it is almost election time. Even before the transmission bombings began to happen, the national government exerted little or no effort to address the energy concerns of Mindanao. Instead, “Imperial Manila” opted to focus and prioritize resources on the energy problems in Manila and Luzon. Even when rotating brownouts were plaguing Mindanao and affecting its economy since 2009, the national government hardly took concern. Adding to this controversy was the involvement of the Malampaya Gas Energy Project funds that were allegedly misused as part of the Pork Barrel Scam.
Everyone knows that in first aid you don’t stem the bleeding from large stab wounds by using band aid. Unfortunately, the stab wounds already caused by the energy problems that are deep into Mindanao’s economy have been allowed by the national government to bleed out profusely. And as Manila also bleeds Mindanao dry to bolster its own budget problems, the energy problem has affected everything in Mindanao’s economy from trade, business, new investments, and tourism. If Manila thinks that a “special” task force can solve Mindanao’s energy problems only because there is a coming elections, perhaps it’s time for Mindanaoans to bring back the echoes of the past to secede and become independent from Manila. Perhaps it’s also time to wake up the higher management of NGCP to get them to pay the back leases they owe property owners. Like it or not, these property owners have a legitimate right to claim.