NEGROS ISLAND, June 14, 2003 THE SOUTHERN BEAT by Rolly Espina (Star) It was uncanny. Eerily so, Independence Day plunged Western Visayas into darkness. In Negros Island, that lasted for only 15 minutes. In Panay, it may last much longer post June 20, though no longer voluntary.

Four bishops of Negros Island launched the 15-minute power shutoff. The purpose was primarily to protest the Purchased Power Adjustment (PPA) and the EPIRA. Bishops Vicente Navarra of Bacolod, John Du of Dumaguete, Patricio Buzon of Kabankalan and Jose Advincula of San Carlos City issued the call for the power boycott.

But the four prelates also came up with a shotgun attack on perceived failings by the government. They called on President Arroyo and top government leaders to free the Filipino people from "Oppressive and exploitative situations, including moves to amend the Constitution.

"We have to be freed from selfishness, self-interest, and greed in order to be able to love and care for, to defend and free others," the prelates stressed in their lengthy pastoral letter.

The bishops flayed the PPA as an impost that "unduly and unfairly adds to the economic burden of our people by making them pay for electricity they have not used.

They also dubbed the EPIRA as a law which made "people believe will rehabilitate the power industry, but will, in fact, facilitate its privatization, ownership and control by local or foreign capitalists to make huge profits and thereby reduce the masses of poor users to further destitution through a systematic and continuing economic exploitation."

They also blasted the government for the ill-conceived commercialization of Bt corn. This, they claimed, could eventually lead to the extinction of local corn varieties and disruption of soil ecology. And they warned that Bt cornís harmful impact still has to be documented.

There were also criticisms against the ineffective implementation of the CARP. Despite 15 years, it still is far from reaching its goal of distributing land and justice to tillers or workers, they added.

The list of criticisms was lengthy. They included indifference to illegal logging, the continuing unsustainable farming and fishing practices, the defense of upland farmers, forests occupants, marginal fishing folks and the indigenous people from being deprived by "a rich and powerful few of their right to eke out a living from nature."

And they did not forget House Bill 6123. The Reproductive Health Bill, they pointed out, contains provisions that may prove inimical to human life and morally objectionable.

The document sounded more like a critical State of the Nation Address. Very unlikely that many of the faithful understood most of the points taken up. The focus, however, was on the power protest. Even then, many Bacolod subdivision residents failed to heed the call for a 15-minute blackout.

Still, they joined their voices in protest against the PPA.

Residents of the provinces of Iloilo, Antique, Guimaras, Capiz and Aklan, however, braced themselves for a four-day brownout starting June 20. This will be due to the repairs on power barge 104 of the Transco which has been leaking.

Power barge manager Irineo Dungallo said the excessive leakage in the 19-year-old barge, made in Osaka, could be very dangerous to people. And he added that it could further damage other equipment, notably household appliances and the more sophisticated high-tech instruments.

Actually the brownouts will last only two hours daily. This will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. thatís the official announcement.

Panit-An, Capiz, residents, however, will have to undergo another and a separate ordeal. On June 27 to 29, there will be the repair of a leaking transformer.

Electric consumers will just have to grin and bear it. Cíest la vie in the provinces.

But the more worrisome is the reported prolonged power shortages starting November, this year. Thatís because of problems involving the Visayas Electric Co. of Cebu. While political leaders are still trying to untangle the many controversial issues about VECO and the transmission company that feeds its power, the chances are that the entire Visayas region may find itself plunged into a power crisis by that time.

President Arroyo, herself, had already announced this during her last visit to Panay. She had also announced plans to avert the crisis. But, as usual with the bureaucracy, things can go wrong.

It could be a dark Christmas for the region.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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