By Reynard Magtoto, VERA Files
"Listen, do not privatize the country's power industry."
This was the message of some 70 delegates of the Global Union Federations (GUFs) to financial executives of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which it blamed for the current power crisis in Visayas and Mindanao.
The GUFs' message was aired at the May 1 Labor Day rally and repeated at the recently concluded 45th ADB Annual Governors' Meeting. It wants the ADB to be held accountable for the power crisis, which has resulted in four-to-five- hour rotating brownouts in those regions.
The GUFs is composed of the Public Services International (PSI), Building and Wood Workers International (BWI), the Union Network International (UNI), and the International Transport Federation (ITF), representing about 70 million workers across the globe in the public sector, building and construction, services, and transport sectors.
"As you can see, the ADB provided loans to privatize the power sector way back in 2001," Katherine Loh, PSI sub-regional secretary for South East Asia, said.
ADB and other major creditors reportedly pressured the national government to fully privatize the state-owned the National Power Corporation (Napocor) and to enact Republic Act 9136, or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) that provided for the full privatization of the electric power industry in the country.
In 1998, the ADB extended a US$300-M loan to finance the government's power sector restructuring program. The ADB, being a lead development agency in the Philippine energy sector, has provided 29 loans totaling $2.33 billion to that sector since 1971.
The GUFs said EPIRA was intended to be the solution to the country's electricity problems, but the promised benefits of a restructured power industry did not materialize. It said the EPIRA law should thus be amended.
The energy costs for consumers continued to rise while people in the Visayas and Mindanao continued to experience daily brownouts, adversely affecting their incomes and livelihoods.
"Mga alas onse, alas dose, low (ang) power supply, (kaya) biglang mamamatay appliances mo kasi kulang ang kuryente (About 11pm, 12 midnight, the power supply is low so, suddenly the appliances shut down because of insufficient electricity)," Ian Mariano, PSI Asia Pacific project coordinator, reported.
"P11.45 per kwh ang binabayaran (na kuryente) sa Iloilo, kaya mahal (P11.45 kwh is the power rate in Iloilo, which is expensive)," according to Mariano, who hails from that city.
The Philippine national average rate of P8.14 per kwh is more expensive than the P5 per kwh rate in neighboring countries.
Mariano said power supply is costlier in the Philippines because it is not subsidized by the government.
"Dapat government responsibility yun; hindi responsibility ng private sector (It should be the government's responsibility not the private sector's responsibility)," he said.
According to the ADB's Sector Assessment Summary on Energy, the Visayas and Mindanao suffered power shortages in mid-2010 because of a decline in the dependable capacity of hydroelectric plants. The Mindanao grid depends heavily on hydropower.
Apolinar Z. Tolentino Jr., regional representative of BWI Asia-Pacific, said that in the Philippines, about 80 percent still require access to public powering supply.
Based on the 2009-2030 Power Development Plan of the Department of Energy (DOE), only 815 MW of an additional capacity of 1, 050 MW between 2009 and 2014 are expected to come on stream in Luzon. In Mindanao, only 100 MW will come on stream out of the 500 MW required.
"Utos sa amin ng Pangulo na ang mga kaukulang mga departamento ay pag-aaralan po ang mga panukala nyo. At makakaasa po kayo kapag napag-aralan po ito kami po ay muling haharap sa ating Pangulo upang gawan ng kaukulang aksyon (The order of the President to us was that the concerned departments should study your suggestions. And you can expect that after we have studied them, we will again face the President for appropriate action)," Budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad told the protesters.
Secretary Abad was directed by President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to personally appear in his behalf and talk to the protesting workers and international labor union leaders from 13 members countries of the GUFs (including the Philippines) at the May 1 rally on Mendiola Bridge in Manila.
Global unions like the GUFs are international trade union organizations working together with a shared commitment to the ideals and principles of the trade union movement. They share a common determination to organize, defend human rights and labor standards everywhere.
(The author is a journalism student of Bicol University who is writing for VERA Files as part of his internship. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")