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    Government may take back control of NGCP

    May 19, 2023 - Philippine Star News


      The government will take back control of the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) 'if necessary,' Malacañang said yesterday as the Senate started scrutinizing China's role in the operations of the country's sole power grid operator.

      President Marcos has expressed his support for the Senate probe to determine whether the government should take over the NGCP, which is partly owned by China, the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) said in a statement.

      In a statement yesterday, the NGCP said it is 'fully cognizant that its franchise is a privilege granted… by the government.'

      'We remain ready to answer any and all questions raised concerning how we do business,' the NGCP said. 'We are confident that the improvements we have introduced and the P300 billion we have invested to strengthening the transmission system will be recognized.'

      Sen. Raffy Tulfo informed the President during a meeting at Malacañang on Monday about his intention to investigate the situation and assess the performance of the NGCP, the PCO said.

      The senator also told Marcos the investigation aimed to examine the security aspect, particularly on who truly controls the corporation.

      'The President agreed with the senator's proposal to conduct a comprehensive study or hold hearings to determine the actual situation. If necessary, the government will take back control of the entity,' the PCO said.

      The State Grid Corp. of China owns a 40-percent stake in the NGCP, with the remaining 60 percent owned by a Filipino consortium.

      Tulfo on Tuesday said there was 'an intel report divulging that China has the capability to remotely access the country's national grid and sabotage it.'

      The NGCP denied on Wednesday that the transmission grid can be remotely accessed by China, as senators raised fears that Beijing can shut off power across the Philippines.

      NGCP assured the Senate energy panel, chaired by Tulfo, that only Filipinos operate their substations.

      Tulfo has proposed the return of the transmission grid to the government-owned and controlled National Transmission Corp., while its maintenance is left to the privately owned NGCP.

      Tulfo said the Chinese stake in the NGCP poses a serious national security threat to the country because of tensions between Manila and Beijing over the West Philippine Sea.

      Ronald Dylan Concepcion, NGCP assistant corporate secretary, denied anew that the transmission grid can be remotely accessed by China. He assured the Senate energy panel that only Filipinos operate their substations.

      'That's not also correct, Mr. Chairman because, in the first place, only Filipinos are manning the substation,' he said.

      Concepcion, however, maintained that in 2019 or 2020, the entire NGCP facility underwent an inspection by the National Security Council then headed by Hermogenes Esperon Jr.

      The NGCP said it is ready to answer all questions concerning how the company conducts its business. 'NGCP is fully cognizant that its franchise is a privilege granted to it by government,' the power transmission operator said yesterday.

      'We are confident that the improvements we have introduced and the P300 billion we have invested to strengthening the transmission system will be recognized,' it said.

      NGCP spokesperson Cynthia Alabanza said the P300-billion investments poured in by the company from 2009 to 2022 include the development of 3,729 circuit kilometers of new transmission lines and 31,190 megavolt-ampere substation capacity installations with 28 new substations.

      With NGCP at the helm of transmission service, the company said more communities, offices, schools and homes benefitted from lower rates, better services and more robust facilities.

      NGCP has also earlier committed to spend P440 billion in capital expenditures from 2021 to 2033 to expand and strengthen the country's transmission network.

      'We have faith in the legal process and we will continue to comply with all lawful directives and pursue our mandate faithfully,' NGCP said.

      Meanwhile, the Joint Congressional Energy Commission (JCEC) will be convened in the next weeks to investigate the issues on power supply, particularly the NGCP on national security concerns, Tulfo said.

      The chairman of the JCEC, Tulfo said the investigation will initially focus on the NGCP. The senator presided over a public hearing at the Senate Wednesday that tackled several measures, including the power supply crisis in Occidental Mindoro, the Panay Island Electric Power Situation and operations of the NGCP.

      'I will convene the Joint Congressional Energy Commission (to) conduct an investigation not only on NGCP but also on the electricity problem. But for now, we will focus on NGCP,' Tulfo told Senate reporters after the public hearing.

      He said the NGCP has a 50-year franchise, which was granted in 2009 and would last until 2059 unless the corporation violated the provision of the franchise that could warrant the revocation of its privilege to operate.

      During the hearing, Tulfo and Sen. Risa Hontiveros grilled officials of the NGCP over issues on national security. NGCP is a privately owned corporation tasked to ensure that the country's transmission assets are in optimal condition to convey safe, quality and reliable electricity.

      'When I met with the President I told him possible security risk and I told him my recommendation and he agreed and said it would be better to find a way to fix it,' Tulfo said, however clarifying that the revocation of the NGCP franchise has to be done through an act of Congress.

      Amend EPIRA

      The energy committee of the House of Representatives has expressed openness to amend the 22-year-old Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA), but also called on the Senate to do the same.

      Presiding on behalf of former speaker Lord Allan Velasco, panel chairman Rep. Arnie Fuentebella - the committee vice chairman - declared during yesterday's briefing that the committee is 'very committed' to make the necessary changes to the law.

      'Our chairman, Marinduque Rep. Velasco, is very committed to fast-track this bill,' he said. 'Sometimes what happens is we accomplish our task here in the House, but what about the Senate? So we need also their commitment.'

      He said Speaker Martin Romualdez also wants it done, 'since this is a priority bill of the President and it's high time, even for us being the son of the 'Father of EPIRA.''

      Fuentebella is the son of the late former speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella, who took over the House helm from 2000 to 2001.

      Among the issues discussed during the briefing was the Department of Energy's proposed version of EPIRA.


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