[A man selects lotto numbers by candlelight following a blackout that hit large areas of Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon yesterday. VAL RODRIGUEZ]

MANILA, MAY 10, 2013 (PHILSTAR) By Iris Gonzales - 5 power plants go offline; poll sabotage feared.

Five power plants supplying electricity to the Luzon grid went offline yesterday, knocking out power in Metro Manila and nearby provinces and raising concern about widespread blackouts on election day.

The blackout started at 1:51 p.m., about an hour before President Aquino was to hold a command conference with police and military officials regarding security preparations for the May 13 elections.

The outage prompted the President to call an emergency meeting on the power supply situation for the midterm polls.

Both the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) and Malacañang assured the nation that there would be sufficient power supply for the elections, allaying fears that blackouts would pave the way for poll fraud.

“Rest assured this won’t happen on election day,” Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla said. “We have no reason to believe that it is sabotage.”

“It’s all systems go. We are ready for any eventuality come election day,” said Primo Alonzo, head of Meralco’s Systems and Control.

Alonzo said Meralco would deploy generators to polling precincts, especially at night when votes are being counted.

In case of line trouble and power outage on election day, the public can text Meralco’s Halalan Text Numbers 0920-917-6211 and 0917-551-6211 or call Halalan Hotline No. 632-8118.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. assured the public that the elections will not be derailed by blackouts.

He said the Comelec has generators on standby in every municipality and the voting machines have batteries that could last up to 12 hours in case of a power outage. He said a blackout would show the efficiency of the machines.

A total of 3,700 megawatts went offline and remained down as of press time.

It started with tripping at Team Energy’s 1,218-megawatt (MW) power station in Sual, Pangasinan, which affected the Ilijan Power Plant, First Gas Power’s 1000-MW Santa Rita and 500-MW San Lorenzo plants as well as the Quezon power plant.

An accident aggravated the disruption of service of the Metro Rail Transit 3 as well as the Light Rail Transit lines 1 and 2 due to the blackout, with operations returning to normal only at 2:45 p.m. at the LRT2 and partial operations restored at 4:20 p.m. at LRT1.

Blackouts were reported in Bataan, Bulacan, Olongapo City, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija and Tarlac.

The Ilocos provinces lost power starting at 2 p.m. yesterday.

As of 7 p.m., power was reported restored in 89 percent of the Meralco franchise.

“The interruption was due to power supply deficiency. All efforts will be exerted to restore power as soon as possible,” Meralco said in an announcement.

Team Energy, in an advisory, said the line tripping was due to external factors.

“It is not caused by any internal technical problem. The drop in grid frequency caused by the trip of other plants resulted in an automatic trip of Sual Unit 1,” Team Energy said.

In a separate advisory, First Gas plant manager Julicer Alvis confirmed that all six units of its Santa Rita and San Lorenzo plants simultaneously tripped due to an external grid event.

The National Grid Corp. of the Philippines, operator of the country’s transmission highway, could not say when power would be fully restored, but assured the public that its transmission lines were secure and fully functional.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Aquino “asked for, and has been regularly updated, by Energy Secretary Petilla on the scope and duration of the power outage.”

“The President was assured that there is adequate power for election day and every step is being taken to ensure electricity supply nationwide on election day,” Valte said.

AFP, PNP brief Noy

Armed Forces chief Gen. Jose Bautista and Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Alan Purisima briefed Aquino yesterday on security preparations for the elections.

Despite some 60 violent incidents that have claimed 36 lives so far since the start of the campaign, the administration is hopeful that the polls will be generally peaceful.

“There may have been some isolated incidents but the PNP is very cognizant of the fact that they have a big job ahead of them,” Valte said, adding that authorities were still verifying if all the violent incidents were election-related.

Meralco was tapped by the Department of Energy (DOE) under its Power Task Force Election 2013 to ensure uninterrupted power supply during the voting period and the canvassing of votes.

Contingencies in place

“We realize the important role we play during the elections, so we will be closely monitoring our services during this period. Although the possibility of power outages is remote, we do have contingencies in place just in case problems occur,” said Meralco spokesman Joe Zaldarriaga.

Steady power supply is needed not just for lighting but also for the smooth operation of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.

Alonzo, Meralco vice president Ferdinand Geluz and call center head Ernesto Fraginal briefed the media yesterday on their preparations to ensure reliable power supply during the elections in the company’s service area.

Geluz said they had been inspecting facilities at polling precincts since February.

He said posters would be displayed at polling precincts, advising the public to call the 37 Meralco business centers and seven auxiliary offices that will be manned around the clock in case problems crop up.

Fraginal said one third of Meralco’s work force, with at least 200 vehicles, are ready to respond to problems.

No octopus wiring, rice cookers

For a safe and worry-free election and to conserve electricity, Meralco officials advised the public to ensure that electric wiring installations at polling precincts are secure, with no “octopus wiring.”

Meralco also discourages the use of rice cookers and coffeemakers in the precincts.

As in previous elections, Alonzo said the most common problem they expect on Monday is overloading of power outlets.

In case a blackout hits a polling precinct, Alonzo said gadgets and appliances should not be plugged or charged as this would reduce the effectiveness of generators. – With Delon Porcalla, Aurea Calica, Non Alquitran, Alexis Romero, Edu Punay, Sheila Crisostomo, Lawrence Agcaoili, Ric Sapnu, Artemio Dumlao

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved