Palace mulls state of calamity in Mindanao

Posted at 03/10/10 5:08 PM

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will study a proposal by the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) to place Mindanao under a state of calamity due to the ongoing energy crisis and the El Niño.

In a press conference in Malacañang, deputy presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo said President Arroyo is still studying the proposal from the Department of Energy and National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) to declare a state of calamity in Mindanao. 

"We all know that our fellow Filipinos in Mindanao have been enduring a lot of hardship due to lack of water, electricity and rain. Whatever the declaration may be, our government agencies are already working to solve the power crisis and help affected farmers and fishermen," Saludo told reporters.

He said a declaration of state of calamity would allow local government units to tap much-needed calamity funds and impose price controls on basic products in affected areas. 

"There is the element of price control during a state of calamity. If you remember, there were price controls in Luzon when a state of calamity was declared after storms Ondoy and Pepeng. That is a possibility," the spokesperson noted.

Until July

Emerging from a meeting with President Arroyo at the NDCC office in Camp Aguinaldo on Wednesday, Defense Secretary and NDCC chairman Norberto Gonzales said the proposed state of calamity will be in effect until the power situation “normalizes” or if the source of power in Mindanao will be “stable.”

Gonzales hinted that the proposed state of calamity will be in effect until July when rains are expected to come. “As per PAGASA (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration), we not have rains until June. We're hoping that by July we should have rains already,” he said.

A state of calamity will allow local governments to tap into their calamity funds to help farmers survive the dry spell as well as offer solutions to the power crisis.

Mindanao is currently suffering from a severe power shortage as the El Niño phenomenon disabled the region's hydro-electric power plants, causing 6 to 7 hour blackouts. 

The region in the country that is most dependent on hydro power, Mindanao has been experiencing power shortfalls and rotating blackouts since 2009 when the ongoing dry spell caused water levels in resevoirs to go below normal levels. 

According to the March 10 power systems update by the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), Mindanao has a shortage of 748 megawatts (MW). A month ago, Mindanao was experiencing a slim 159-MW power shortage.

The Department of Energy (DOE) Power Development Plan projected an energy shortage in the Mindanao grid as early as 2001.

State of calamity

By declaring a state of calamity, the responsibility of solving the power shortage is given to the local government units who have access to the calamity funds.

The Local Government Code or RA 7160 Section 324 requires local government units to set aside 5% of their local budget for the calamity fund, which can only be accessed by the local chiefs after a declaration of a state of calamity. The funds are usually allocated in providing relief or rescue. 

Republic Act 8185, which ammended certain provisions in the Local Government Code, defined a state of calamity as “a state of extreme distress or misfortune, produced by some adverse circumstances or event or any great misfortune or cause or loss or misery caused by natural forces.”

A state of calamity is often declared in cases of destructive typhoons. 

Last month, Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes recommended that the President declare a state of emergency in Mindanao to allow the National Power Corporation (NPC) to buy generators which will temporarily provide power to the Mindanao grid. 

The idea did not sit well with some lawmakers who insisted that the department has enough powers as stipulated in the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA).