Energy chief apologizes for Luzon brownouts; says probe on possible collusion underway

Robie de Guzman   •   June 3, 2021   •   399

MANILA, Philippines — Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Alfonso Cusi on Thursday apologized for the spate of rotational brownouts that hit parts of Luzon this week.

He assured that the Luzon grid is now in normal system condition and that the current power supply reserves are enough to accommodate the projected demand.

“Normal na po ang supply ng kuryente for today. Ang supply po is more than sufficient to meet the projected demand today,” he said during a Palace media briefing.

“Sa ngayon po, the demand that we projected is at 10,300 megawatts and we have something like 11,600 megawatts of supply. So we have a normal supply today,” he added.

The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) first placed the Luzon grid under red and yellow alerts on May 31, and then on June 1 and 2 due to low power supply following planned and unplanned outages of some power plants.

“I apologize for the last 2 days na nagkaroon po ng rotating brownouts. Dahil po ‘yon dahil sa sabay-sabay po na nagkaroon po ng breakdown ng apat na plantang malalaki na ang capacity po is 2,017 megawatts,” he said.

“Malaki po ang nawalang supply sa sistema… kaya ganun po, nagkaroon po tayo ng kakulangan at sa init din po ng panahon, tumaas po ang demand natin to more than 11,000 megawatts,” he added.

Cusi, however, noted that the DOE is still monitoring the condition of four power plants that are still on a forced outage. These power plants have a combined capacity of more than 1,000 megawatts.

In a separate advisory, the DOE said Pagbilao Coal-Fired Power Plant Unit 2 (382 MW) is currently on forced outage since June 2 and is expected to return to service on June 6.

GNPower Mariveles Energy Center (GMEC) Coal-Fired Power Plant Unit 2 (316 MW) is also on forced outage since June 1 and is expected to return to service on June 8.

The GNPower Mariveles Energy Center (GMEC) Coal-Fired Power Plant Unit 1 (316 MW), which is on forced outage since February 6, is expected to return to service on August 31.

The Sem-Calaca Coal-Fired Coal-Fired Power Plant Unit 2 (300 MW), which is currently on forced outage since December 3, 2020, is expected to return to service on July 1.

Cusi said he has ordered an investigation into possible collusion among power plants.

“Pinatitingnan na po natin yan sa ating mga tao, and I have asked also po ang tulong ng ERC at ng Philippine Competition Commission to look into the allegation,” he said.

“Pero habang hindi pa po natatapos ang imbestigasyon, hindi pa po tayo makakapagsabi kung ano ba talaga ang nangyari,” he added.

Some senators have earlier pushed for an inquiry into the recent rotational brownouts.

Dahan-dahang phase out ng COVID-19 quarantine protocols, isinusulong

Robie de Guzman   •   January 21, 2022

MANILA, Philippines – Isinusulong ng isang opisyal ng pamahalaan ang graduwal na pag-aalis ng quarantine protocols sa bansa sa oras na bumaba na ang mga kaso ng COVID-19 sa bansa, partikular na ang pagkalat ng Omicron variant.

Ayon kay Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion, layon nitong mapabilis ang pagbangon ng ekonomiya at matulungan ang mga negosyanteng makabawi sa pagkalugi lalo na ngayong limitado na naman ang galaw ng publiko at mahigpit mula ang restrictions.

“As we see Omicron start to subside then maybe we can move towards a gradual phase-out of our quarantine in the country,” ani Concepcion.

Naniniwala ang opisyal na malaking dagok para sa ekonomiya ng bansa ang ipaiiiral na restrictions gaya ng mandatory quarantine period dahil apektado rin nito ang lokal na turismo.

Karamihan aniya sa mga negosyong malaki ang lugi ay ang airline companies, hotel at restaurants na dalawang taon na ring limitado ang operasyon dahil sa pandemya.

Ang iba namang maliliit na negosyo ay tuluyan nang nagsara.

Ang mga pasahero namang pumapasok sa bansa gaya ng returning Filipinos ay apektado rin ng mandatory quarantine protocols.

Kaya ang mungkahi ni Concepcion, sa halip na facility-based quarantine na kasalukuyang requirement ng pamahalaan ay gawin na lamang itong home quarantine.

“We are not suggesting to remove quarantine immediately. What I’m proposing to IATF members is that a gradual move towards the removal of quarantine in the Philippines and moving towards home quarantine, rather than facility based quarantine. In my own view is that it does not actually help us from preventing Delta of Omicron from entering the country,” ang pahayag ng opisyal.

Ang panukala ay batay aniya sa ginagawa sa ibang bansa gaya ng Thailand, Switzerland, at Estados Unidos na hindi na nagpapatupad ng mandatory quarantine lalo na sa mga fully vaccinated individuals.

“We should think about it, I believe that eventually as you have seen in the news Thailand, Switzerland started to open up… And some of them are removing their quarantine,” ani Concepcion.

“Seeing how people are coping with COVID-19 in America specifically in Dubai area, I’ve noticed that basically everybody is wearing mask, they are  definitely conscious about you know the need to prevent themselves from getting sick but they live a normal life, there’s a lot of movement and people have accepted that,” dagdag pa nito.

Para kay Concepcion, hindi na kakayanin ng bansa kung patuloy pang hihigpitan ang galaw ng publiko kaya’t kailangang pag-aralan ng mga kinauukulan ang pagluluwag sa restrictions para makabawi ang ekonomiya ng Pilipinas.

“We will really try to engage with the IATF on starting to study this whole gradual move towards the removal of quarantine,” pahayag ng opisyal.

“We can’t continue to lock ourselves out, we can’t continue to restrict movement we definitely have to open up the economy,” dagdag pa niya.

Samantala, ayon naman kay acting Presidential Spokesperson at Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, kailangang pag-aralan ng mabuti ang pag-phase out ng quarantine protocols dahil hindi naman lahat ng polisiya sa ibang bansa ay aplikable rin sa Pilipinas.

Kailangan rin aniyang may rekomendasyon ng health experts at siyentipikong batayan ang pagpapatupad ng protocols.

“Lahat naman ng mga suggestions naman po ay pinagaaralan natin sa IATF, then of course tinitignan din natin yung ginagawang practices ng other countries, we benchmark also with the practices ng other countries,” ani Nograles.

“But we are also mindful that it’s not a one size fits-all for all countries, kailangang mong tingnan ang konteksto ng bawat bansa… Siyempre base rin po sa suggestions recommendations sa mga health experts natin so lahat is based on science and data,” dagdag pa niya. (mula sa ulat ni Correspondent Janice Ingente)

 

Concepcion wants Philippines’ COVID-19 quarantine rules revisited

Robie de Guzman   •   January 21, 2022

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion on Friday suggested for the government’s task force on COVID-19 response to revisit its quarantine protocols for international travel in light of recent developments in the COVID-19 situation in the country.

In a statement, Concepcion said quarantine restrictions for international travel should be re-examined, noting that other countries, particularly Switzerland and Thailand, have started easing restrictions to allow entry of international visitors.

 “It is quite understandable that public health should be the primary concern of governments. But as COVID itself changes, policy should be also open to re-examination,” he said.

Specifically, Concepcion believes that facility-based quarantines and the use of RT-PCR tests need to be revisited.

“The entry requirements are so extensive and complicated that they put the country out of the reach of international visitors, and even our returning kababayans,” said Concepcion.

He added that when it comes to air travel, the focus should be on testing, and testing fast and accurately.

“The goal is to find out if a passenger is infected, and if not, to send him on his way as fast as possible and not create bottlenecks,” he said.

Thailand recently announced that it will resume its quarantine-free visa program for vaccinated visitors. Switzerland, meanwhile, will not require pre-arrival COVID-19 tests for vaccinated or recovered visitors.

Concepcion also noted that the United States does not require specifically the use of RT-PCR tests or facility quarantines for arriving passengers.

“Inbound passengers to the US only need a negative result from an antiviral test, not necessarily an RT-PCR, taken no more than 24 hours before departure. Rapid tests are acceptable as long as they meet the requirements of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” he said.

“This remains true even following the emergence of the Omicron variant. The US does not require facility-based quarantines for international passengers arriving in the US,” he added.

Currently, the Philippines is implementing travel conditions depending on the passenger’s point of origin and vaccination status. All arriving passengers must test negative from an RT-PCR taken 48 hours before departure. Except for fully vaccinated travelers coming from the 32 countries in its Green list, all passengers get swabbed again after having spent at least five days in facility-based quarantine.

Concepcion believes that the Philippines “can do the job with only an antigen test taken 24 hours prior to departure,” saying that “testing closer to the time of departure using an antigen test is more practical than waiting for RT-PCR test results.”

He said RT-PCR test results take longer to deliver results and are more expensive.

As an additional safeguard, he suggested conducting second antigen tests upon arrival, and home-based quarantines instead of facility-based quarantines to allow returning Filipinos to spend more time with their family.

“Our OFWs can’t afford to spend their hard-earned money and precious time to spend days in facility quarantine,” he said.

“Other countries seem to have already accepted the fact that COVID is here to stay. Maybe it’s time we practice living with COVID or else the Philippine economy will suffer and along with it, its MSMEs,” he added.

Concepcion said that the survival of businesses and industries in the Philippines depends largely on government policy.

“This is also quite true of other industries that are downstream from air travel, not the least of which are the tourism and hotel and restaurant sectors. Many MSMEs depend on the trickle-down business generated by air travel,” he said.

“Our economy can’t shut itself from taking any more lockdowns as our country’s debts continue to mount. Time is not on our side,” he added.

Concepcion said the country should move on after taking the necessary steps by vaccinating and boosting the population.

“But these are baby steps. We need to take that leap of faith. While vaccines are the solution to keeping a healthy nation, learning to live with COVID will revive our economy and bring life back to our MSMEs,” he said.

Philippines posts 32,744 new COVID-19 infections

Robie de Guzman   •   January 21, 2022

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines on Friday logged 32,744 additional COVID-19 cases, the Department of Health (DOH) said.

In its latest data, the DOH said 31,456 of the new cases occurred within the last two weeks.

Regions that reported high cases in the recent 14 days were the National Capital Region, CALABARZON, and Central Luzon.

Active infections stood at 291,618 – 9,015 of which are asymptomatic, 277,833 are mild, 2,979 are moderate, 1,487 are severe, and 304 are in critical condition.

The positivity rate was at 44% based on the 75,335 tests administered on January 19.

Meanwhile, 16,385 more patients recovered from the COVID-19, raising the total to 3,012,156.

COVID-related deaths rose to 53,309 with 156 new fatalities.

Three laboratories were not able to submit their data on time. These facilities contribute on average 0.8% of all samples tested and 0.9% of positive individuals.

DOH data also showed that 51% of beds in the intensive care units are in use nationwide, and 49% in the National Capital Region (NCR).

The utilization rate of isolation beds across the country was at 52%, and 48% in the NCR.

About 24% of ventilators are in use nationwide, and 27% in the capital region.

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