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Groups seek power relief, reforms for COVID-19 recovery, renewal of clean energy pledge in 2020 SONA

/ 11:36 AM July 27, 2020

MANILA — Clean energy advocates led by the Power for People Coalition (P4P) and the Withdraw from Coal (WFC) network on Monday called for the inclusion of the power sector in the plans for national survival from the COVID-19 crisis in this year’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), including relief and reform programs and a reaffirmation of marching orders issued by President Rodrigo Duterte in last year’s SONA.

In a statement, the groups said Duterte, in his 2019 SONA, expressed recognition of the need to fast-track the development of renewable energy sources and reduce dependence on coal as entrusted to the Department of Energy (DOE).

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“We welcomed the President’s pledge in 2019 in the hope that it would finally spark change in a power sector that, for so long, has been highly polluting and systematically anti-consumer. It indeed was followed by advances in the implementation of the remaining mechanisms of the Renewable Energy Law, over a decade after it was enacted. But the 21 coal projects still in the national pipeline are telling of the administration’s failure to really advance renewables and end reliance on coal and other fossil fuels,” said Gerry Arances, Convenor of P4P.

Arances said the advance of coal would have been worse had it not been for the determined resistance of consumers and host communities.

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“Advocates remained along as before the pledge was made. With this, the administration made way for the heightened suffering of Filipinos from exorbitant bills, power outages, and continued pollution during the pandemic,” he said.

According to the group, the COVID-19 crisis revealed deep-seated problems in a power sector characterized by privatization, competition, and deregulation as enabled by the Electric Power Industry Reform Act, for which government interventions are already long overdue.

“This old normal, which harms the integrity of Creation with the proliferation of coal and other fossil fuels and leaves our marginalized sectors at the mercy of private corporations, cannot continue. Our government may have gotten away from responsibility before by simply backing promises for better energy with more pledges or excuses, but the time we are in is different. The gravity of the crisis as experienced by the poor and vulnerable must be reflected in the administration’s ways forward,” said Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, convenor of WFC.

As national plans are laid down amid a global health crisis and in the face of recession and worsening global warming, the advocates called on the government to provide immediate relief packages for the people and work towards the betterment of the power sector.

“The millions of suffering electricity consumers would surely benefit from payment exemptions, suspension of taxes, and immediate return of refunds owed by companies like Meralco—all of which are solutions that President Duterte and his cabinet can and must advance. Existing power contracts detrimental to consumers, especially those of coal that pass on hidden costs to end-users while locking them to decades of unreliable electricity, also need to be stopped. With the decline of electricity demand, an audit of all power supply agreements, starting with Meralco’s, must also be done to protect consumers from  price hikes due to stranded costs,” said Ian Rivera, National Coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ).

The group said that advancing renewable energy to replace the old normal, as urged by the

President himself last year, is crucial to national recovery.

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“Recovery plans must seek to rebuild the economy and strengthen its resilience to future crises. At the same time, they need to address the people’s pressing dilemmas of rising costs of living and widespread loss of jobs. Renewable energy, especially in the form of microgrids, and energy efficiency measures offer solutions to these. In urban centers, it could provide cheap electricity while creating more job opportunities than fossil fuel industries can ever offer. Because it can be designed to adapt to any terrain, microgrids can also power far-flung communities and address the decades-old problem of 100 percent electrification,” explained Atty. Gia Ibay, Climate Change and Energy Programme Head of WWF Philippines.

The clean energy advocates carried the said calls as they joined the many groups mobilizing under the ‘SONAgkaisa’ banner on Monday.

“We do not have the time for the president to go back and forth with his directives, or for the government to ignore the many blemishes of the power sector that were made obvious by COVID-19. The immediate survival of our people and their quality of life in the long term are at stake. The government must plan and act with this in mind,” Arances concluded.

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