#VotePH2022: COVID, power woes loom as poll concerns
MANILA, Philippines — Not only the ongoing surge in COVID-19 infections but also the thin power supply in the summer months may impact preparations for the May 9 elections, officials said on Tuesday.
With the three-month-long printing of official ballots likely to be hampered by the pandemic surge, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) announced contingency plans such as scheduling by-batch work for the National Printing Office (NPO) staff and hiring a reserve pool of workers to meet its deadline of printing all 67,442,714 ballots by April 21.
Election officials had to resort to a “virtual walk-through” of NPO operations in Quezon City on Tuesday, ahead of the expected start of the printing of ballots on Wednesday, because some NPO employees had come down with COVID-19.
“We are foreseeing that the pandemic will hamper our timeline,” said Comelec deputy executive director for administration Helen Aguila Flores, who watched the prerecorded NPO briefer through a video link with other Comelec officials, stakeholders and members of the media.
The NPO, which has a P1.3-billion contract with the Comelec, will print the 1,697,202 ballots for registered overseas voters first and then the ballots for the record 65,745,512 registered voters who will troop to the polls on May 9, she said.
On Monday the Comelec was still finalizing the ballot face template. The latest official list of candidates has 10 for president, nine for vice president, 64 for senator and 177 for party-list group.
“We should be done by the first week of April but we are realistic in anticipating contingencies, including the COVID-19 surge and the infection of our workers, so we set the target (completion date) on April 21, which includes the buffer period,” Flores said.
She said the NPO would use three printers—one new and the rest used in the last elections in 2019, with another printer on reserve, and three sheeters that will cut the ballots.
At peak performance, the three printers should print 1,100,000 ballots a day, Flores said.
The NPO has 150 workers for ballot production, 700 for ballot verification and 100 for ballot quarantine. They will work in two shifts.
The 67,442,714 registered voters for the May 9 elections represent 61.3 percent of the projected Philippine population of 109,991,095 as of the end of 2021.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, in 2015 the voting-age population (or those 18 years old and upward) accounted for 62 percent of the total population.
In the 2019 elections, there were 61,843,771 registered voters.
Overseas voting for national candidates will be held on April 10-May 9, and local absentee voting on April 27-29.
Between April and June
Also on Tuesday, the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) issued a statement warning that the Luzon grid might experience a tight power supply between April and June.
It cited a forecast made by the Department of Energy (DOE) showing that total peak demand in Luzon might hit 12,387 megawatts, up 6 percent from the actual peak load in the same period last year.
Peak demand in the Visayas was projected to reach 2,528 MW from last year’s 2,252 MW, and in Mindanao to 2,223 MW from 2,144 MW last year.
To prevent possible power shortages during the election period, the NGCP appealed to lawmakers to “immediately explore demand-side management strategies.”
Despite the annual grid operating and maintenance program coordinated by the NGCP and the DOE that consolidates the preventive maintenance schedules of power plants, some generating units have extended their maintenance shutdowns and others reduced their committed generation output as early as this month.
This forced the NGCP to issue yellow alerts last Jan. 10 and 11. A yellow alert is raised when reserves fall below the capacity of the biggest plant in the Luzon grid.
‘Not always followed’
“On paper, there appears to be sufficient supply to meet demand, but the plan on paper is not always followed. It is when there are unscheduled shutdowns and derations, and extensions of maintenance duration, that grid operations may be disrupted enough to warrant the issuance of a grid alert status,” the NGCP said.
The threat of a power shortage during the summer months is commonplace. Last year, red alerts were issued over the Luzon grid on May 31 and on June 1 and 2, when a similar round of extended and unplanned maintenance shutdowns occurred.
A red alert is issued when there is insufficient power supply in the grid.
As early as last year, the DOE announced a possible thinning of power reserves during the election week in May 2022.
The NGCP, for its part, said that as the transmission service provider, it “can only give an overview of the current supply and demand situation, and endeavor to dispatch any and all available grid resources [but] cannot intervene on matters concerning power generation.”
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