By Robert B. Roque, Jr.
Obviously and expectedly, the Department of Energy failed to deliver on its December 19 promise of restoring power in all Typhoon Odette-ravaged areas by Christmas. Well, the credibility of the agency has been problematic on many levels, especially under the leadership of Secretary Al Cusi, who seems never to look before he leaps.
Unfortunately, when Cusi leaps, the entire department leaps with him. Among them was Electric Power Industry Management Bureau (EPIMB) Director Mario Marasigan who gave that “by Christmas” promise even before damage and repair assessments by the Electric Cooperatives (ECs), the National Electrification Administration (NEA), the National Power Corp. (Napocor), and the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) were on the table.
Fortunately, the “Bayanihan Spirit” remains very much alive among private stakeholders in the energy industry. Firing Line cites the engagement of the Manila Electric Company (Meralco), which immediately stepped up to calls for assistance.
To hasten power restoration, particularly in Cebu, Meralco coordinated with the Visayan Electric Co. (VECO) for a quick assessment and then sent a contingent of more than 50 engineers and linemen to help with clearing operations and repairs.
In Bohol, Meralco coordinated with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to help the provincial government in the damage assessment. To date, over 30 Meralco personnel have been on duty to restore power in the province.
And through its One Meralco Foundation (OMF), it sent three generator sets to Siargao for charging mobile phones and emergency lights and distributed over 140 solar torches to residents Siargao and Dinagat whose houses had been damaged. The OMF also sent 3,000 relief packs to Bohol, Southern Leyte, Palawan, and Cebu.
On the part of Meralco PowerGen Corporation and Global Business Power Corporation, 20,000 liters of diesel were sent for the generator sets of PLDT and Smart so that telecommunication lines and facilities are restored to facilitate the coordination of all emergency and relief efforts.
We have to salute these efforts by Meralco and that of their personnel – especially the contingents still in Bohol and Cebu, who sacrificed Christmas with their families this year, to be of help to the hapless victims of Odette so that they won’t have to grope in the dark for so long.
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Following this P1.5-billion damage to the power sector, the DOE better confront the long-stalled issue of installing underground cables in the country and, perhaps, make it part of the administration’s much-vaunted Build, Build, Build program for a more typhoon-resilient power distribution line.
The shift to underground cables is challenging because the installation cost is high and so is the maintenance, especially since our spot on the planet is prone to earthquakes and floods. Moreover, it cannot be the sole responsibility of power distributors like Meralco. Otherwise, electricity would be driven to rates unreachable by household consumers.
But it has to be discussed, studied and pushed by the energy sector so that the future of power service in the country would be brighter than dark.
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