Monday, March 1, 2010

Brownout Blues

Being subjected to a two, three or even four hour long "rotating" brownouts every day can really be serious inconvenience. In the context of the power crisis in Mindanao, however, residential power users have learned, after almost three weeks of such outages, to take such things in stride and have managed to tailor their daily schedules so as to minimize the negative impact of such power interruptions in their lives.

If one happens to have a business, especially one that depends on a steady supply of power (what business doesn't?) then the daily brownouts can be killer. But Filipinos are adaptable and resourceful. Profits may suffer but ways can be found to make do and weather the power crisis in anticipation of an imminent improvement in the power situation soon.

But extend the period of the daily power outages to eight hours or more daily, as what is happening in Lianga, and you are basically strangling what resolve and initiative is left in a community desperately trying to rebuild itself after decades of economic stupor and stagnation. But then the town is just another remote and godforsaken community in one of the most depressed areas of Mindanao (a region that is regarded by many Filipinos in Manila and the Luzon region as just as remote as darkest Africa and fit only for the tyranny and despotism of local warlords like the Ampatuans of Maguindanao) and thus ultimately irrelevant in the general scheme of things.

The more urbanized and cosmopolitan residents of major cities like Davao and Cagayan de Oro City the rest of the country can identify and empathize with, but the power problems of small towns in the rural countryside of Mindanao like Lianga cause nary even a small ripple in the national consciousness. Even in the case of the current power crisis, underdeveloped areas bear the brunt of the power supply shortage, suffering through outages of eight hours a day or more so that urban and industrial centers get the precious electricity they so voraciously need.

I am not, of course, blind to the fact that in more ways than one the needs of the many and the far more important greatly outweigh the needs of the humbler and paltry few. One can gripe and complain about the "unfairness" and inequality of power rationing scheme being implemented in Mindanao but, in the end, one must bow to the inevitable logic of it all. Indeed, the welfare of the few must take a backseat to the comfort and well-being of the greater majority.

What bothers me really is that no one in the government or the power sector seems to be willing to stand up and tell the people of Mindanao in general and the poor, hurting folks in Lianga in particular what is is the real score about the current power shortage and if there is really something being down to address the problem soon. Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes has done basically nothing except keep on mouthing doomsday scenarios and urging President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to use her emergency powers and directly take a hand in solving the island's power problems. The President, on the other hand, has been astonishingly and irresponsibly silent on the issue.

I, like so many here in Mindanao, am also interested in finding out why the government has been caught by surprise by the onset of the power crisis and why, with the El NiƱo phenomenon already predicted and anticipated months ago, the power generation deficit was allowed to grow until the situation became so critical that it became inevitable for the power rationing scheme and rotating brownouts to be implemented.

In many ways, the folks here in Lianga are willing to put up with all the suffering and disruption caused in their lives by the power outages here. That is, if they can be assured that the power supply crisis is temporary and that something is really being done to find quick, economical, practical and long-term solutions to the power woes they are having.

Otherwise, the long, seemingly endless and frustrating brownouts they have to go through everyday serves merely to reinforce their paranoia that they are being unfairly singled out to be bear the large part of the burden for a desperately problematic situation which is not of their own making and which, certainly, could have been avoided in the first place.

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