CRISIS MODE: Congress probe sought on W. Visayas power blackout

Darkness envelopes a part of Mandurriao, Iloilo City as rotating brownouts are in effect due to supply lack in Panay Island. (Francis Allan Angelo photo)

By Rjay Zuriaga Castor

Top officials of the city and province of Iloilo are pushing for a congressional inquiry into the series of power transmission disturbances currently plaguing Panay Island.

Lone District of Iloilo City Rep. Julienne “Jamjam” Baronda said the power outage in Panay Island “[warrants] scrutiny by the House of Representatives in the exercise of its Congressional oversight function to safeguard public welfare.”

“The investigation in aid of legislation on the April 2023 region-wide power outages […] has yet to be concluded, and yet this new incident took place, distressing the Ilonggos. It seems that those responsible and accountable have yet to learn their lesson,” she added.

Baronda was referring to House Resolution (HR) No. 933 which called on the Committee on Energy to investigate the power outages occurring for three consecutive days in the islands of Panay, Guimaras, and Negros in April last year.

Baronda is one of the authors of HR No. 933, along with five other lawmakers from Iloilo.

Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas has also called on lawmakers and the Senate to conduct an investigation into the power outage and hold the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) accountable for their “incompetence.”

“This situation is terrible for Panay and Guimaras to suffer. NGCP needs to shape up. Congress needs to investigate the matter and restudy their franchise. The national government through the DOE, the ERC and the President should use all the powers in their mandate to ensure that the transmission lines of NGCP should be improved at the earliest possible time,” he said.

Treñas added: “The improvement of these transmission lines has already been delayed several times. Now we are suffering because of these delays.”

The NGCP carries a 25-year concession and a 50-year congressional franchise to manage and expand the country’s power transmission grid.

“The country suffered 7 to 10-hour blackouts or brownouts during the energy crisis in the 1980s. Now in the year 2024, Panay is suffering,” he added, urging also the Department of Energy, Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), and other regulatory bodies to investigate the matter.

The blackout in most parts of Panay Island has already surpassed 24 hours, and there is no advisory yet from NGCP on when the electricity will be fully restored.

The NGCP said that as of Wednesday afternoon, Panay power plants are serving 200.1 megawatts (MW). The power is augmented by 47.5 MW from sources elsewhere in the Visayas.

In a letter addressed to Treñas, the Iloilo chapter of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry stressed that the round-the-clock rotational brownouts in the city have compromised the productivity and operational efficiency of several businesses.

“This can have downstream effects on the city’s overall economic well-being and job creation. Frequent electric problems pose a severe threat to the economy, disrupting productivity, increasing operational costs, and hampering technological advancements,” it emphasized.

MORE Electric and Power Corporation (MORE Power), the electricity distribution provider in Iloilo City, reported that only half of its 24 feeders have been reconnected with power supplied through the manual power load distributed by NGCP.

But the NGCP temporarily halted the restoration of MORE Power’s feeders at around 1:00 p.m. due to the increasing electricity demand and insufficient electricity supply.

To address the ongoing concerns, the PCCI-Iloilo said the city has to invest in infrastructure upgrades, improve maintenance schedules, or explore alternative energy sources.

“We believe that through open dialogue, collaboration, and a shared commitment to finding solutions, we can overcome these challenges and ensure a reliable and stable electricity supply for Iloilo City,” it added.

Meanwhile, the Iloilo Economic Development Foundation, Inc. (ILEDF) pointed out that the power interruption has disrupted normal operations for numerous businesses, considering that the power outage occurred at the outset of the resumption of work on January 2.

ILEDF has urged the ERC and the NGCP to conduct a thorough investigation into the root causes of the power outage and implement corrective actions promptly.

“We urge both to prioritize the improvement of our region’s infrastructure to prevent similar incidents from disrupting our economic activities,” the foundation furthered.

Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor Jr. said the province is experiencing a “power crisis” since the power interruption caused inconvenience to communities and a loss of income to businesses.

“We are in crisis mode. That is why we are here to proceed with our monitoring. We want to be cleared, we want to treat the situation as under crisis because we are at a crisis. We want to be in crisis mode, insofar as the province is concerned,” he said.

Several local government units in the province and the city government of Iloilo declared the cancellation of classes, both public and private, at all levels on Wednesday.

For the second day, classes in Iloilo City are canceled today.