Security audit of PH power facilities sought in Senate

Robie de Guzman   •   November 27, 2019   •   255

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday called on her colleagues to investigate the country’s power transmission sector amid concerns on foreign access and control over the power grid system.

Hontiveros saidshe has filed Senate Resolution No. 223 to seek for a legislative inquiry and national security audit of operations and facilities of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) following reports that China could control and remotely shut down the country’s transmission network.

NGCP, the country’s power transmission service provider is 40% owned by the State Grid Corporation of China.

“We need to know for certain if our energy systems and infrastructure fully remain under Filipino control, and if we have implemented the technical safeguards needed to prevent foreign interference in or sabotage of our national electricity grid,” Hontiveros said in a statement.

In her resolution, Hontiveros proposed lawmakers to “review and evaluate the performance of the NGCP,” as well as investigate reports that China may control and remotely shut down the country’s power transmission system.

She pointed to information on ‘foreign executives’ connected with the NGCP who have been hiring and deploying foreign drivers and engineers, in violation of Section 11, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution – which requires executive and managing officers of public utilities like NGCP to be Filipino citizens – and the Anti-Dummy Law.

Reports also claim that only Chinese engineers have been able to troubleshoot, operate and control the NGCP’s power transmission facilities “because of the currently-installed information and communication technology for the automatic and remote monitoring and control of said facilities.”

She also noted reports claiming that only Chinese engineers have been able to troubleshoot, operate and control the NGCP’s power transmission facilities “because of the currently-installed information and communication technology for the automatic and remote monitoring and control of said facilities.”

“If these reports are true, these vulnerabilities pose a grave risk to public infrastructure, to national security, and to the daily lives of our people. We must address and correct these flaws immediately,” Hontiveros said.

The NGCP, however, dismissed Hontiveros’ apprehensions, and assured that Filipinos are in control of the country’s power transmission facilities.

The NGCP, which was created in 2009, is owned by a consortium of 3 corporations, namely, the State Grid Corporation of China, and Monte Oro Grid Resources Corporation and Calaca High Power Corporation, both from Philippines and hold the remaining 60 percent stake.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), for its part, said the matter is within the purview of the National Power Corporation, and the NGCP which is privy to the provisions and necessary safeguards in place in the contract.

However, the AFP assured it will be discussing the security aspect of the issue with concerned agencies, and participate on matters relevant to its competency.

“We submit that Congress is well within its powers to conduct an inquiry if it so desires given its oversight and legislative functions,” AFP Spokesperson Marine Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo added in a statement. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Nel Maribojoc)

Bill seeking additional annual leave, benefits for solo parents pushed in Senate

Robie de Guzman   •   January 20, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – A bill seeking to grant additional annual leave and benefits for solo parents has been filed in the Senate.

Senator Risa Hontiveros said she lodged the Senate Bill No. 164 or the Expanded Solo Parents’ Welfare Act to provide solo parents more benefits to help them as they face challenges in raising a child alone.

“Raising a child is daunting, but raising a child alone constitutes a specific set of challenges and difficulties,” Hontiveros said in a statement Monday.

Under the bill, the senator proposes to grant solo parents seven additional days of parental leave annually, on top of leave privileges under the country’s existing laws.

The measure also seeks to entitle solo parents to a 20 percent discount on goods and services in private establishments, costs of childcare and on tuition per child.

It also mandates government and private companies with more than 100 employees to create daycare facilities.

“Para sa mga solo parents, maaaring mag-isa ka lang na kumakayod. My proposal is to ensure that our solo parents are given enough support to take care of our children well,” she said.

The bill also seeks to expand the definition of solo parents to include spouses of low-income overseas Filipino workers (OFW) who are away from their homes for an unbroken period of one year.

“Parang mga solo parents na rin ang ilan sa mga asawa ng OFWs natin,” she said. “Minsan, more than a year na nasa abroad ang asawa. Kailangang suportahan ang mga asawa ng ating mga OFWs. We need to extend the solo parents’ benefits to them too.”

Hontiveros, who chairs the Senate committee on women, children, family relations, and gender equality, also pushes in her bill the creation of a Solo Parents Affairs Office by the local government and requires every barangay to have a help desk that can immediately assist solo parents and their children.

“Gusto kong malaman ng mga single tatay at single nanay na katulad ko na may nakikinig sa kanilang mga hinaing. We want to support our solo parents the best way we can. Ang isinusulong nating mga benepisyo ay mga konkretong solusyon,” she said.

This is not the first time that Hontiveros pushed to expand the privileges for solo parents as she also filed a similar proposal last year.

NGCP eyes complete restoration of transmission lines in Tisoy-hit areas before Dec. 25

Robie de Guzman   •   December 5, 2019

MANILA, Philippines – The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) is eyeing to complete before December 25 the restoration of transmission lines in areas heavily-affected by typhoon Tisoy (international name: Kammuri).

In a statement, the NGCP said it has started restoration works and aerial inspection and foot patrol on areas devastated by the storm.

“Assessment and restoration efforts began as soon as weather permitted, even while the typhoon was still within the Philippine area of responsibility,” the NGCP said.

Based on the ongoing inspection, its teams of line personnel found a total of 19 towers and 281 transmission structures damaged by the storm.

“As of 1 p.m. today, December 5, nine 230-kV lines and fourteen 69-kV lines are still de-energized,” the power grid operator said.

The NGCP said the following are the target restoration dates for the corresponding areas:

Quezon

  • Quezelco 1 – December 8

Camarines Sur

  • Casureco 1 – December  8
  • Casureco 2 – December 11
  • Casureco 3 – December 17
  • Casureco 4 – December 9

Sorsogon (Soreco 1 & 2)

  • Sorsogon City – 12 December
  • Rest of Sorsogon – December 20

Northern Samar (Norsamelco) –

  • Feeder to Catarman (Central Northern Samar) – December 7
  • Feeder Allen (Western Northern Samar) – December 8
  • Rest of Northern Samar – December 10

Albay

Apec – December 12, except Ligao City, which is set to be restored on December 15

The NGCP said it has so far restored transmission services in Batangas, Laguna, Camarines Norte, and Eastern Samar, as well as QUEZELCO 2 which serves portions of Quezon Province.

“Please note that this schedule refers only to transmission services, and not to distribution services or generating capacity,” it said.

“For complete restoration of power, all distribution and transmission facilities and sufficient generating capacity must be available,” it added.

The power grid operator said it will defer to the Department of Energy and the National Electrification Authority for information on distribution and generation restoration.

Hontiveros urges DOH to name pharma firms blocking move for cheaper medicines

Robie de Guzman   •   November 20, 2019

Senator Risa Hontiveros

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros urges the Department of Health (DOH) to identify the pharmaceutical firms that are reportedly blocking the move to lower the price of medicines.

“Nanawagan ako sa DOH na pangalanan ang mga pharmaceutical companies na mas inuuna pa ang kanilang malalaking tubo at kita kaysa sa buhay at kalusugan ng mamamayan. Sa panahon na kaliwa’t kanan ang epidemiya at mga nagkakasakit, ang presyo ng gamot ay hindi dapat dagdag-pasakit,” Hontiveros said during the Senate plenary deliberation of DOH’s budget for 2020 on Tuesday night.

She said there is reportedly a strong lobby from several pharmaceutical companies opposing the proposed use of government’s regulatory powers under the Republic Act 9502 or the Cheaper Medicines Act to lower the “unfair and anti-poor” prices of much-needed medicines nationwide.

The DOH earlier listed around 120 high-cost medicines that will be recommended for price reduction under a maximum drug retail price (MDRP) scheme.

These medicines particularly treat leading diseases and conditions including diabetes, heart disease, lung diseases and different types of cancers.

“While I welcome the willingness of pharmaceutical companies to work towards improving the country’s healthcare system, I would like to remind them that it is the exorbitant prices of medicines charged in both public and private sectors which have undermined the effective delivery of health services, to the detriment of poor and even middle-class families,” Hontiveros said.

She also maintained that prices of medicines in the Philippines “remain high,” and “out of reach” of the majority of Filipinos.

Hontiveros cited a study commissioned by the DOH which states that the medicine prices in the country are still significantly higher than the international reference prices.

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