About the Maharlika ‘solution’ to power lack

By Herbert Vego

ARE you in favor of the proposal of Speaker Martin Romualdez to enable the government-owned Maharlika Investment Corporation (MIC) to invest in the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP)?

“If the objective is to secure power, why not?”

That was how MORE Power President Roel Z. Castro answered our question in an interview on the program “Tribuna sang Banwa” on Aksyon Radyo last Sunday.

Romualdez had opined that Maharlika “could provide essential capital for infrastructure upgrades and help in lowering the cost of electricity for consumers.”

Indeed, why not?  As a natural monopoly earning billions of pesos annually, the transmission grid looms as a risk-free investment.

Both Romualdez and Castro were reacting to the four-day rotating blackouts that struck Panay Island on January 2 to 5.

Castro, who had personally attended the Senate and House inquiries on the perceived “inefficiency” of NGCP, echoed the disgust of the legislators over the “normal” reaction of the NGCP representatives to the island-wide power outages.

“How could it be normal?” Castro asked, likening the NGCP to a four-engine airplane breaking down and running on only two engines, hence courting disaster.

“Irked” was how the power honcho described the impatience of the legislators over the past eight months since a similar anomaly first struck Panay in April 2023.

The NGCP leadership has reneged on its promise to finish work on Cebu-Negros-Panay (CNP) interconnection that would have brought into the system 200 megawatts of additional power and 230-kV transmission line facilities from the Barotac Viejo Substation in Iloilo province to the Cebu Substation.

“Unless they finish the work,” Castro said, “we will experience rotating brownouts again.”

“Dapat nagawa na yan,”  Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas had earlier said of the CNP project in a zoom message to the senators during the Senate inquiry.

Right now, due to rapid economic growth, Iloilo City consumes a peak of 140 to 150 megawatts.

However, as to whether foreign ownership in the grid would have to be banned because of rumored intervention by senior officials from the Chinese Communist Party, Castro said he had read about it but would rather not comment because it’s a political and security issue better left in the hands of the government.

As most Filipinos now know, the State Grid of China owns 40 percent of NGCP shares of stocks. Since China is “notorious” for incursions at the West Philippine Sea — notably its forced occupation of the Scarborough Shoal within our economic zone — what would prevent it from invading our entire archipelago?

That question reminded Castro of Senior Deputy Majority Leader Sandro Marcos, who filed House Resolution 1534 seeking a review of the NGCP franchise. The review should include the possible separation and transfer of the systems operation function from the NGCP to another entity “which could carry out such function more efficiently.”

At present, NGCP performs dual functions — as system’s operator and transmission infrastructure provider.

Of course, we asked Pres. Roel Castro whether he had met Rep. France Castro at the House. His namesake was the ACT party-list congresswoman who had blamed MORE Power as another institution to blame for the rotational blackouts.

“We met,” he said. “I was expecting her to explain what had prompted her to single out MORE among the DUs. She did not.”

As to their blood relationship, he joked, “Still tracing.”