IT IS AS IF THE FATES ARE AGAINST US. FIRST, the water levels in the reservoirs of hydroelectric dams have dropped drastically because of the drought, only a few months after the dams had to release water because the water levels were too high due to the rains brought by two typhoons. Therefore, the power plants can now no longer generate enough electricity because there is not enough water to turn the turbines.
Next, three coal-fired power plants broke down, all at the same time (as if on purpose), so that all available generated power were not enough to supply the demand for electricity by consumers, ironically during the peak of summer when air conditioners, electric fans, blowers, refrigerators, freezers and other cooling equipment use plenty of electricity. Result: brownouts.
Not only is there insufficient water for power generation, there is also water lack for irrigation and for domestic water consumption.
Because of the power lack, there is now a clamor from congressmen and from Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes to call Congress to a special session for the sole purpose of giving President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo emergency powers to address the power shortage.
This is dangerous. Perhaps, for any other President it is not, but for GMA it is very risky because she has a track record of overreaching her authority and testing the limits of legality. With emergency powers, we cannot predict what she would do.
Besides, what can she do to provide more water and electricity? She is no superwoman. All she can do is award government contracts for power plants without public bidding as the law requires. Which is also very risky. The contracts would likely be overpriced and awarded to Palace cronies. The last time we gave emergency powers to a president (Fidel V. Ramos), we ended up with overpriced power plants that sell electricity to consumers at very high prices. That is why we have one of the highest power rates in Asia, second only to those in Japan, a highly developed country.
What’s more, even if GMA awards a power plant contract now, it would take at least four years before the plant can generate electricity—too late to address the current power shortage, and panic. It should be left to the next president to do that.
Former Senate president and now senatorial candidate Franklin Drilon, who was the guest at the Kapihan sa Manila last Monday, said that instead of giving GMA emergency powers, we should hurry up the process of bidding out the construction of power plants so that it could be done legally and with transparency and avoid possible abuse because of panic, haste and greed.
The Philippines is blessed with plenty of water—during the rainy season. In fact, we usually have too much water during the wet season, resulting in floods and loss of lives and property and agricultural crops. All that water just runs out to the sea where it is lost.
As Monday’s Inquirer editorial suggested, why not impound that excess water behind mini dams, to be used when the need arises, for power generation, irrigation and water supply. President Ferdinand Marcos started the construction of “mini-hydros” during his administration, something that he saw in China, but most of those dams have been neglected and are now in disrepair and useless.
People living on islands, where there are no streams or groundwater, are more resourceful than the government. They catch rainwater in any available water container to be used later for cooking, drinking and washing.
Wawa Dam in Rodriguez (formerly Montalban), Rizal, is one such mini-dam. It used to be the only source of water for Manila until Angat Dam was built and Wawa was abandoned. Now the waters of Angat are no longer sufficient—for power generation, irrigation, and water supply—but Wawa Dam is still there (like a faithful wife waiting for her unfaithful husband to come home) with plenty of water behind it that flows over the spillway every day to be wasted in the Marikina and Pasig rivers and eventually Manila Bay. Why not harness that water to augment the power and water supply of Metro Manila and neighboring areas?
With Wawa’s water adding to Metro’s water supply, more of the water from Angat can be used to irrigate some of Bulacan’s and Pampanga’s farms. Isn’t it paradoxical, ironic and unfair that water from Angat, which is in Bulacan, is piped exclusively for the use of Metro Manilans, denying Bulakeños, who technically own Angat’s water rights, its use. The source of the water is in Bulacan, the pipes run through Bulacan to Metro Manila, but not a drop of that water is available to Bulakenos. Isn’t that unfair?
If Wawa Dam’s water is added to Metro Manila’s water supply, some of the water from Angat can then be made available to Bulakeños for irrigation and domestic use.
There is another paradox in the Philippines. As an archipelago, we are surrounded by unlimited, free water—salt water. Being salty, that water cannot be used for drinking, cooking, washing or for watering plants. But that salt water can be used to flush the toilets. Do you know that about half of a household’s water consumption is wasted to flush your wastes down the toilet? That can be done just as effectively by the free and unlimited salt water, thus not wasting the fresh water that is cleaned, filtered and treated at enormous expense and saving it for drinking, cooking, bathing and washing. Thus, you reduce fresh water consumption and bills by half.
This is already being done in other countries like Hong Kong, so why don’t we do it here?