national-power-summitMANILA, Philippines – Around 200 participants to a summit on the tenth anniversary of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (EPIRA) braved the heavy rains brought by Tropical Storm “Falcon” that inundated parts of Luzon and Metro Manila Saturday.

An initiative of the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC), the event, dubbed “National Power Summit: EPIRA +10,” is being held at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon until Sunday.

Ricardo Reyes, FDC president, said the summit aims to gather stakeholders – consumer groups, rural electric cooperatives, partylist organizations, academe, media, faith-based groups, business, government and NGOs to assess together and find solutions to problems besetting the power industry after the 10-year implementation of Republic Act No. 9136 or EPIRA.

He added that the summit also aims to develop a sustainable and democratic framework for rural electric cooperatives and to develop and build consensus on recommendations and proposals that will promote the welfare and interest of the Filipino consumers.

FDC said the summit is important for electricity consumers who bear the brunt of unaffordable electricity rates and unreliable and inaccessible supply of electricity – ironically, two categorical promises of EPIRA.

Mae Buenaventura, FDC vice president said this summit is especially important for women in urban poor and rural communities who have to spend more of their labor time and sacrifice their health in the face of skyrocketing electric rates or non-existent power services.

“Moreover, women are severely underrepresented in all levels of decision-making in the power sector, and this shows in the lack of any gender-responsive measure under EPIRA,” Buenaventura said.

Reyes added: “Today, the Philippines suffers from having the highest residential and industrial power rates in Asia, even higher than Japan. More expensive electricity makes access to electricity an impossible dream for 14 million Filipino families who do not have electricity in their homes (based on official data for 2006).”

Reyes expressed hope that stakeholders attending the summit would issue a collective stand against the privatization of remaining power plants in the country, among them the Angat hydro-electric power plant in Norzagaray, the Unified Leyte geothermal complex and the Agus-Pulangi hydro-complexes in Mindanao.

“Why sell Angat Dam? It is the single-most important water source of Metro Manila as it provides 97 percent of the water needs of at least 12 million residents of the country’s capital. It also irrigates some 31,000 hectares of farms across 20 towns and municipalities in Bulacan and Pampanga,” said Reyes.

“Why sell the hydro-complexes of Agus-Pulangi? It provides more than 50 percent of electricity, not to mention the cheapest electricity, in Mindanao. The Unified Leyte geothermal complex also provides cheap electricity to our kababayans in Eastern Visayas. More importantly, these power plants do not use fossil fuel and do not contribute to climate change. These are national treasures that should remain public,” added Reyes.

The summit is likewise important for rural electric cooperatives (RECs) which are being pushed by some sectors to be privatized or corporatized, according to FDC.

Prior to the summit, a public forum dubbed “Philippine Electric Power Industry Market and Policy Assessment” was held at the Philippine Social Science Center (PSSC) auditorium. Industry experts Edna Espos and Prof. Rowaldo del Mundo presented the study by the UP National Engineering Center and UP Engineering Research and Development Foundation, Inc.

According to the study: “The objectives of the EPIRA, as listed in its ‘Declaration of Policy’ have not been satisfactorily fully achieved.” It added that there is “weak institutional governance” in the industry which “arises from Department of Energy’s inadequate engagement and Energy Regulatory Commission’s limited administrative capacity.”

The two experts proposed short- and medium-term recommendations to address problems in the industry. Among these recommendations are the ownership restructuring of RECs to strengthen and allow them to contract long term power, and the separation of distribution and generation to mitigate risk of anti-competitive conduct.

After the forum, the participants conducted simultaneous sessions to thoroughly discuss and propose recommendations on the following themes:
• Renewable Energy:  Moving Forward
• How to reduce power rates in the Philippines?
• Solutions to NPC debts: Some recommendations
• Making power industry more efficient, reliable and secured
• What kind of regulation do we need and how to do it?

Co-sponsoring the event with FDC are: 1st Consumers Alliance for Rural Energy (1-CARE) Partylist, Akbayan Citizen’s Action Party, Association of Mindanao Rural Electric Cooperatives (AMRECO), Fair Trade Alliance (FTA), Foundation for Sustainable Society Inc. (FSSI), Greenpeace – Philippines, Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (iCSC), NGO Forum on ADB, Partido Demokratiko Pilipino – Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), Partido Kalikasan (PKI) and Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ). (30)

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