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Duterte plays down China threat to power grid

President Duterte said the military could deal with any security problem related to the national grid system and played down any threat from China, citing less technologically sophisticated ways to sabotage the power transmission lines than what two senators had warned about.

The President was responding to concerns that the Chinese government, which has a 40-percent stake in the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP), could remotely cut off electricity supply in the country and undermine national security.

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“There are security issues, but that can be handled by the military,” Mr. Duterte told reporters on Thursday night, speaking for the first time on the issue.

The possibility that the grid could be remotely controlled was disclosed during a Senate budget hearing last week by Melvin Matibag, president of the state-run National Transmission Corp. (TransCo).

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Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian this week told reporters he was “shocked that there was such a technology” that could remotely shut down the entire grid, “and more shocked that we did not do anything” to deal with that.

‘I would just blast it’

But the President indicated that anyone who may want to topple the grid’s power pylons just needed to take direct action.

“Me? The tower? I would just blast it, cut the cable and it’s done,” he said.

Mr. Duterte again said there was no cause to “worry about going to war with China.”

Besides, he said, “I do not have that capability. I cannot fight China because I do not have the armaments.”

The President acknowledged that Filipinos lacked trust in China. “But I trust them. I take their word for it,” he said, without elaborating.

Senate inquiry sought

Gatchalian, chair of the Senate energy committee, and opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros had filed separate resolutions seeking a security audit and a legislative inquiry into the operations of NGCP.

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“Several hearings by the Senate energy committee and the joint congressional energy commission show serious concerns pertaining to the operations of NGCP, which adversely affect the quality, reliability and security of the supply of electric power,” Gatchalian said in a statement on Friday.

“The probe is necessary in order for Congress to be made aware of the operations of the grid and to ensure accountability on the part of NGCP as it performs its duties and functions as the system operator,” he added.

Gatchalian’s Resolution No. 227 specifically seeks answers regarding the concerns that China may be able to interfere in the country’s power system since the State Grid Corp. of China owned 40 percent of NGCP.

Remote shutdown doable

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang on Wednesday said the allegation that China controlled the Philippines’ power grid or was a threat to the country’s national security was “completely groundless.”

NGCP president and CEO Anthony Almeda has made a similar statement.

But Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi on Friday countered such assertion.

“I wouldn’t say it’s unfounded,” he said. “It’s a concern that has been raised before. Potentially, I repeat potentially, they can do it [remotely shut down] considering its [system’s] digital nature.”

Cusi also said the government, mainly through TransCo, has been pushing for an audit of NGCP, but the grid operator was “uncooperative to open itself for an audit to once and for all answer the issue.”

Unaudited since 2009

NGCP, which started operations in 2009, has not been audited since “its inception” and has blocked “all of government agencies efforts to conduct systems audit,” Cusi noted.

“They even prevented and continue not to allow TransCo from inspecting the control centers and how they use the other infrastructure under their control,” he said.

“Systems operations comprises just about 6 percent of the whole transmission business [and] is not critical to the business of NGCP,” Cusi said.

Transmission grid network

He said systems operations should not have been included in the franchise contract and it should be taken back by the government because “a private company or a private individual should not be given the control over the most critical infrastructure of the state—the transmission grid network—capable of transmitting power and digital data.”

Cusi made the remarks in a series of text messages to reporters on Friday.

NGCP officials declined to comment.

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TAGS: China, duterte, National Grid Corp. of the Philippines
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