I wrote here about the electrical outages affecting Mindanao in the Southern Philippines.
General Summary: Lack of rainfall means a decrease in water for the hydro plant at Lake Lanao to provide enough electricity for the southern region.
Some of the problems in Mindanao
That night in a hot humid & dark guest house room I watched as my phone’s battery slowly ebbed away. Tweets from Manila said they had 24/7 electricity. Cebu, Palawan had no problems. Okay, even the national newspapers said it was a Mindanao problem, so I wasn’t anxious.
Then, came a tweet from Davao (southern Mindanao), there were no outages. General Santos, the same, and so it continued.
How come I was getting constant power outages and the rest of The Philippines was alright?
These days Manila gets brownouts every other day, for 2-3 hours. In specific regions of Mindanao, it ranges from 16-5 hours, everyday.
Electricity blackouts are not random
Add to this warnings that Lake Lanao’s water reserve is so low its past critical. That the hydro turbines are in danger of seizing up with irreversible damage if they continue at such low levels. And, that there are no more reserves to tap into.
Why then when Manny Pacquio was fighting was there 24 hours of electricity?
Why for 3 days during the elections this week was there 24 hours of electricity?
And why, during daylight hours are suburban street lights switched on?
The Arc of Darkness
The outline of the blackout areas is a sobering picture. True sense of it comes if you only know why in this paradise nation, a large portion of it is a no go zone.
As you may know Mindanao is a troubled region in The Philippines. There are many things going on here, and it’s not my place to state who’s right or wrong.
Here’s a general overview about the problems in Mindanao:
The MILF/MNLF are an organization that wishes to have a region of Mindanao made autonomous. The region is largely Islamic, in an overwhelmingly catholic country.
It’s known that there are many “private” armies in the region.
Some of whom are controlled by local warlords seeking separation.
The most infamous is the Ampatuan clan. Accused of a mass murder last year of over 50 people. They obtained their arms from the government. Like many political families in the Philippines, the Ampatuan’s have family members from Governors on down to Mayors throughout the region.
Mix this with national government & local intervention and you can see problems. Oh, and should we not forget U.S.A. military training intervention too. Over 150,000 people have died in this little known conflict.
Journalists die in Mindanao
In late 2009 over 50 people were mass executed in Mindanao. Over 30 of them were journalists. Here’s a report by ABC reporter Mark Willacy, it’s worth watching (20 mins)
The head of the Ampatuan clan who is / was a friend of the outgoing president, Arroyo, has been arrested, as one of the many accused of organizing the mass killing. He’s shown in the video above. (the latest news is two key Ampatuan members have been released after presenting alibis).
My findings on the Arc of Darkness in Mindanao
With map in hand I asked some people on the street. Why were certain regions blacked out, and the rest not?
Personally, I feared the worse. With the elections it seemed politically motivated to provoke individuals from within this conflict region. It could affect anyone’s political campaign, one way or another.
However, there have been no outbreaks of violence or accusations based on this issue alone.
In typical Pinoy fashion it took a while for people to open up with a story. It turned out I met a random person who grew up by lake Lanao. Their view is that the situation is far more financially motivated than political. Yet, the two webs are intertwined.
Lake Lanao is shrinking due to a high level of silt pouring into it. The silt is coming from the surrounding mountains, which are being stripped bare due to illegal logging.
Who is doing the illegal logging? Well, allegedly it’s the local militia and gangsters. They are armed, and well known for kidnapping, ransoming, and executing hostages. Both foreign and local, including reporters and journalists.
None of the above can ever be proved. Maybe this is why mainstream news agencies are not reporting it. Then again, in a land where more reporters have died …
Mindanao is now rated above Iraq & Afghanistan as being the most dangerous place for journalists in the world today.
It’s simply not feasible to garner this evidence if you look at the complexities and people involved within the region. Violence is a simmering undertone here. Profit is undermining that, for now. A lesser of two evils?
Illegal logging is hugely profitable. They are not going to stop. During an election, it would make sense not to rub your sore spots in public. Just let it ride as you turn a blind eye.
Turn off the power, and no one will protest as vast quantities of money is pouring into those allegedly involved in the logging.
Still, why is the government not preventing the illegal logging?
Strange how the electricity which is Nationally governed is only turned off in this outlined troubled region and nowhere else?
Is someone pushing power buttons of a different nature here?
No escape from Mindanao’s problems:
I see this problem escalating over the coming years. If the lake is truly shrinking due to rising silt because of illegal logging, with a growing population – Electric blackouts will become more frequent and last for longer.
What happens if an internal dispute with the factions in control within this Arc of Darkness triggers a retaliation? aka the money runs out.
This could well be the beginning of the end for what some people are already calling a failed state.
The more worrying aspect about Mindanao:
Why is this not being reported more? Yes, there are some columnists writing about this. Yes, there are wild rumors floating about. Yes, there are headlines about Hydro-Power. Yes, certain local electrical companies are using strong words to issue blame and even state that the crises is “artificial” (source the original that was removed – Now all links have been removed as of March 2012) . But is this garnering national interest, no.
Then again, remember: Mindanao has been quoted as being more dangerous to cover as a journalist than Iraq or Afghanistan.
When you live here, that means something more than just a quote.
The president has declared Mindanao in a state of calamity … but such terms seem to be lost in the media frenzy of the 2010 elections.
Share the electrical load:
Electricity is split into various sub companies that distribute it.
The grid is not physically connected on a national basis. Davao for example is getting electricity from diesel stations. While others rely on hydro.
If this is the case, why can electricity not be purchased from other areas? Other nations can manage this (Nepal/India), why can The Philippines not manage this internally?
The future of Mindanao (The Philippines):
I have tried my best to write great things about Mindanao in my Seeing the Unseen series. Indeed for long term readers here you will no doubt notice the positive slant I give all of The Philippines.
Sadly, in recent times, I see a downward spiral that’s undeniable in fact.
At the moment I cannot hand on heart recommend Mindanao as a tourist destination. Yes, I do think, and believe it’s more safe than international media makes it out to be. But compared to other tourist destinations I cannot recommend it.
It’s a shame, as the majority of the people from this region are some of the nicest, most honest you will meet.
Why then have more journalists been killed here than anywhere else in the world?
I don’t have the answers in this complex web of so many virtues. All I know is that the rains are overdue. And, with them electricity along with regular services will return.
The people will forget their woes as flash floods and more human tragedy make the headlines once more. Promises by former governments that this would be addressed year in year out will be excused by the new government who in turn will make a promise.
Then next year it will all start over again. And, it will continue on until there are no more trees left to fell.
Or, when the money runs dry like the lake. Then, I fear, something much worse will bring the worlds media back to Mindanao.
Since election day there have been no electricity blackouts. There’s a new president-elect from a party that’s currently not in power. There has been no heavy rain since election day either, so I imagine that Lake Lanao is still at “critical level” for producing hydro power.
There were few problems in Mindanao over the election period. Yes, there were deaths, under a dozen were reported, but nothing of note to suggest ill will nor disruption to the masses.
That’s not counting debacles such as polling equipment not showing up, broken machines, lack of officials and vast queues of voters unable to vote due to this and more. Lesser known in Mindanao are the reports of trucks filled with armed people preventing local villagers from leaving their houses on polling day.
The official response to the electrical crisis has always been a lack of rainfall and a lake that’s been at “critical” and danger levels for months. People are not asking why the electricity is back for fear it might remind someone to hit the power button again.
More clouds on the way:
For one week the people here have had constant electricity for the first time in months. The only thing that’s changed is the election is over and new people are coming into office.
Will this and the other problems in Mindanao continue? Yes. This was only a new one. And, at the moment it’s not officially over. The people within the Arc of Darkness are just grateful that for the past week life has returned to normal. They are still very aware that at any minute the light may go again.
A few brave souls now mention the impending rains.
The ground is hard, when the rains come they will bounce off the earth and form this years flash floods. Another repetitive tragedy is looming.
With a new administration comes new hope. Every cloud is meant to have a silver lining. I hope for the people of Mindanao this is true. For now though, the problems in Mindanao seem to be on hold; as the people live day by day in wait …
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