Adding insult to injury
There is an urban myth that Mindanaoans enjoy cheap electricity because most of its power is generated by hydroelectric plants. As a clean and basically free energy source, hydropower has indeed allowed Mindanao residents to pay less for their electricity than those in Luzon and Visayas. But there’s the catch: it is only cheaper by comparison with the rest of the country. In reality, and in absolute terms, we pay a premium for our electricity, which is among the highest in Asia.
According to Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teddy Casiño, the latest available comparative data show that Mindanao has an effective residential rate of P6.69 per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Luzon has P9.84, while Visayas has P8.19. In contrast, Casiño said, except for CARAGA, all the Mindanao regions also have more expensive residential power rates than Hong Kong. Mindanao residents have higher residential rates than major Asian capitals like Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, New Delhi, Bangkok, and Shanghai, among others. All in all, Casiño said, Mindanao is paying an average of P1.82 per kWh more for electricity than the 31 major cities in Asia and Oceania surveyed by Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO).
So for President Benigno Aquino to tell Mindanaoans during last month’s Mindanao Power Summit held in Davao City to be ready to pay more for electricity is to add insult to injury. Instead of looking for ways to lower power costs, he instead pre-empts everything and simply says nothing is going to stop government from paving the way for higher prices. There was no mention even of alternative sources of power that could potentially solve our problems; apparently for Malacañang, only traditional solutions are viable. This is such a shame and defeats the purpose of even having a power summit at all.
One of the issues in which Malacañang still does not dare push its luck is the removal of the subsidies for the MRT and LRT in Metro Manila. The subsidy stands at around P45 per commuter, and the amount totals to a whopping P8 billion every year. President Aquino had announced last year that this subsidy was going to be removed, but as he was met by almost violent protest he had been forced to back down. And last March, he affirmed that this subsidy was going to continue when he said government cannot remove the expanded value added tax on fuel because that is where the government’s counterpart for the MRT and LRT fares are sourced from.
We in Mindanao have said this before, and we say it again: the subsidy for the MRT and LRT is unfair to the millions of other taxpayers in the regions who do not enjoy the benefits of the trains when traveling. Our hard-earned money is actually being used to make life in Metro Manila easier – with precious little of it coming back to us in the form of services. And this issue is becoming even more enraging because while government is apparently not going to lift the MRT and LRT subsidy, it is hell-bent on raising electricity rates in Mindanao through the privatization of the hydroelectric power plants in the island. At no point in President Aquino’s speech in the Mindanao Power Summit did he mention helping Mindanaoans in the same way government is helping those in Metro Manila.
Why the double standard? If Metro Manila can be propped up by the money of the regions, then surely some of that amount can also be used to ensure that our electricity in Mindanao remains affordable. It is one of the few advantages we have over the national capital region, one that has attracted industries to put up their establishments here. Without affordable power, Mindanao’s future will become bleaker. So either government subsidizes our electricity or it removes all subsidies across the nation. It must level the playing field so that no region – not even the national capital – has unfair advantage over the rest.
Jon Joaquin is the managing editor of the largest circulation newspaper in Mindanao, the Mindanao Daily Mirror in Davao City.