MANILA, Philippines - The Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) today urged the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation (PSALM) to stop the on-going sale of the 246-MW hydro-electric power plant (HEPP) component of the multi-purpose Angat Dam in Norzagaray, Bulacan over what it considers grave threats to the rights and securities of millions of Filipinos posed by such privatization.

Milo Tanchuling, FDC secretary general, highlighted the fact that the Angat Dam serves a crucial function as a water source more than a power generation plant.

“Angat Dam 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. The dam also irrigates some 31,000 hectares of farms across 20 towns and municipalities in Bulacan and Pampanga,” said Tanchuling.

He lamented that PSALM “takes on a blind eye to these factors and proceeds with the sale of the Angat Dam.”

Under Republic Act 9136 or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA), PSALM is mandated to privatize all the assets of the National Power Corporation, including the Angat HEPP.   

According to reports, PSALM expects at least six interested groups to show up on April 28, the deadline of the bid submission. Among the interested parties include Trans-Asia Oil and Energy Development Corp., San Miguel Corp., Aboitiz Power Corp. and SN Power of Norway, the consortium of First Gen Corp., Ayala Group and Metro Pacific Corp., and DMCI Power Corp.

Violation of Human Rights

FDC said that privatizing the Angat HEPP effectively means transferring the control over how and when to use the water from the Angat Dam to the hands of private corporations. This will put the reliability of water supply of the residents of Metro Manila and some parts of Bulacan, Rizal and Cavite at risk because the winning bidder will prioritize the generation of electricity even if it means wastage of water flowing from the Angat Dam.

“The MWSS has stated that the Napocor had been releasing water from the Angat Dam to generate electricity even when the water level is already critical. What more if the hydro-electric facility is transferred to a private entity?” asked Tanchuling.

Even the Commission on Human Rights has expressed that “the right to water is more fundamental and primary over the need for power. Hence, all actions that necessarily affects, directly or indirectly, this right must be construed strictly in its favor.”

Irrigation problem, Profit vs. Welfare

Tanchuling said that the privatization will also jeopardize irrigation of farm lands. According to him, the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) admitted that it is having problems coordinating with Napocor concerning the release of water for Angat Dam in order to channel the water flow for irrigation purposes.

The NIA admitted that it currently does not have sufficient infrastructure to hold huge releases of water from the Angat Dam. Thus, the NIA itself fears that privatizing the Angat HEPP will cause even greater problems to the provision of irrigation to farmlands in Bulacan and Pampanga.

FDC also expressed concern over the management of water of the dam since it also serves as a flood controller of Bulacan and Metro Manila.

“We have recently seen how the unscrupulous management of water from the privatized San Roque Dam caused widespread flooding of the entire province of Pangasinan during the Typhoon Pepeng. This flooding could have been prevented had the private owners of the San Roque Dam thought of the security of the people rather than the profit they could gain if the water in the dam rose to a very high level. This very same scenario can happen in Manila if the Angat Dam is put to private hands,” said Tanchuling.

Job security and effects on electricity price

“It has always been the ‘standard operating procedure or SOP’ of private corporations taking on power plants to terminate regular employees of the NPC in favor of new ones. Private corporations do these so that they would not have to pay for the benefits already enjoyed by the old workers of the power plants,” said Tanchuling.

Moreover, the privatization will give effect on the continuing hike of electricity price, Tanchuling said. “Since interested private entities bid at very high prices to increase their chances of winning the bid, the winning bidder naturally recovers their capital investment by overpricing their generated power to be sold to the Distribution Utilities (e.g. Meralco) and Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM).  Distribution Utilities would then pass the burden to the consumers,” he explained.

With all these concerns over the sale of Angat HEPP, FDC called on the government to seriously review its privatization policy.

“This sale is pursuant to the policy of privatization where the government, in effect, escapes from its responsibility of providing basic public services by transferring this responsibility to the private sector. As a consequence, we are the only developing country in the world paying electricity rates as high as that of the developed countries. Privatization has and will not be pro-people,” Tanchuling said. (30)

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