By Ali G. Macabalang
The Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) leadership have aired opposition to a planned sale of the state owned Agus-Pulangi hydropower complex, even as the latter announced willingness to buy out the facilities.
MinDA Chair Manny Piñol and BARMM spokesman cum Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo have aired on separate occasions their resentment against the privatizing the hydropower plants as envisioned lately by national officials, notably those from the Department of Energy (DoE).
Secretary Piñol batted for the government to retain ownership and control of the Agus-Pulangi Hydropower Complex (APHC), recommending though for an enhancement in the management and operations of the facilities.
“MinDA’s position is against the privatization (of APHC), which is deemed best left in the hands of the government but defining its role in an era of market competition. We need these assets to not just tame future supply volatilities but also continue fulfilling its obligation to serve especially the marginalized areas,” Piñol wrote in a Facebook post last Sunday.
In an interview with the Philippine Muslim Today news, Minister Sinarimbo, a lawyer, has conveyed a bolder stance in opposing the planned APHC privatization, saying the BARMM government would be “ready and willing to buy out” the facilities.
“The people of BARMM are major stakeholders in the APHC operations, and we should have the priority to buy the facilities in case the government will pursue the planned sale,” Sinarimbo said.
The APHC covers two facilities: The Agus Power Plant Complex comprising six power plants along Agus River, the main outlet of Lake Lanao in Lanao del Sur; and the Pulangi IV Hydroelectric Power Plant located on the Pulangi River near Maramag in Bukidnon.
Lanao del Sur is a component province of BARMM, even as Lake Lanao is the main inland water in the autonomous region. Pulangi River is one of two major rivers crossing Maguindanao, also a BARMM component, and is deemed with great significance to the Sultanate of the province.
The Agus power plants, capable of generating a combined 900 megawatts, are operating at 60 percent of maximum capacities. On the other hand, the Pulangi Dam is capable of generating 255 megawatts.
In December last year, the DoE reportedly formed a technical working group (TWG) to study the APHC situations and recommend remedies on improving operations amid deficiency and losses. The TWG has reportedly raised two options: A sale or privatization of the APHC; and a comprehensive facilities’ rehabilitation.
Organized power consumers claimed that the TWG was more inclined towards selling or privatizing the APHC due to alleged instigation by oligarchs in the energy industry.
Privatization appeared as a preferential option due to an alleged inability of the National Power Corporation (Napocor) and the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM) to provide the APHC a rehabilitation fund pegged in 2011 at no less than P3-billion.
Talks about the preference for APHC privatization came to fore when David Tauli, a fellow alumnus of the Mindanao State University-Marawi main campus, asked the Philippine Muslim Today news to link him up with the MinDA and BARMM leaderships in his group’s bid for popular support in opposing government control of the Agus-Pulangi dams to the private sector.
Tauli, vice president for Northern Mindanao of the Lanao Power Consumers Federation (LAPOCOF), sent the PMT a portion of his group’s draft resolution rejecting the planned APHC sale.
He called on the MinDA, the BARMM and other concerned groups in Mindanao to come up with similar resolutions that should be taken up directly with President Duterte to prevent a sinister consequence.
Presently, Tasui said, the Pulangi Dam has the cheapest electric rate in the country, and putting it under oligarchs-driven management will be very adverse for consumers.
The LAPOCOF resolution cited the privatization of the Mt. Apo geothermal power plant in 2015, in which the rates of the MAGPP were “unilaterally increased by the PSALM from 2.85 pesos per kWh to 5.18 pesos per kWh.” Power rate nowadays in North Cotabato (main base of Mt. Apo) is ranging from P10 per KWH.
Last January, the MinDA hosted in Davao City the “Mindanao Speaks Up” forum, in which a DoE official announced the possible sale of the APHC as one of two state options. Sec. Piñol presided over the forum, with his subordinate technical people serving as secretariat.
At the virtual Q & A segment of the forum, the Philippine Muslim Today news tried to ask for details from the DoE official. But the forum secretariat advised back that the DoE would later coordinate MinDA for a forum exclusive to DoE operations. Such an exclusive forum did not push through.
In his Facebook post, Pinol said: “Mindanao’s energy is a crucial factor in the overall socioeconomic development of the island, (with MinDA) making sure that supply is reliable and stable to support economic recovery from the impact of the pandemic and an expected rise in demand when industries return to pre-COVID operational levels.”
“While our power supply is considered to be stable, we continue to pursue measures and approaches to support expected rise in the demand for power while keeping energy rates cost-effective as the economy recovers from the pandemic, and industries reset operations to pre-Covid levels,” Piñol said.
Citing DoE data, he added that demand in the Mindanao grid peaked at 1,928 megawatts while available capacity is at 2,780 MW.
This leaves the region with a gross reserve or supply excess of 852 MW, a published report said. AGM