Chinese ownership may put NGCP at risk – Tulfo

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 16) — A senator said on Tuesday he raised possible risks in the Chinese government’s partial ownership of the country’s power grid operator during a meeting with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

"Sa madaling salita, magagawa ng Chinese shareholders ang lahat ng kanilang gusto pagdating sa pamamalakad ng NGCP," Sen. Raffy Tulfo noted. "Ito ang dahilan kung bakit ngayon ay nagkakagewang-gewang ang ating energy situation."

[Translation: Simply put, the Chinese shareholders can do whatever they want when it comes to running the NGCP. This explains the unstable power situation.]

The State Grid Corporation of China has a 40% stake in the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), while 60% is held by investment group Synergy Grid and Development Philippines of Henry Sy Jr. and Roberto Coyiuto Jr.

Tulfo said the power grid may be put at risk because of the ownership structure.

"Chinese ownership of NGCP poses serious national security threat considering the current conflict between China and the Philippines over the West Philippine Sea," said a statement from Tulfo's office.

Tulfo said he proposed to return the systems operation of the grid to the National Transmission Corporation, which owns the physical structures, and leave the maintenance to NGCP.

The senator said Marcos agreed to his suggestion as long as it would benefit Filipinos. Malacañang has yet to issue a statement about the meeting.

Also citing national security issues, Senator Risa Hontiveros earlier expressed concern over the partial Chinese ownership of the NGCP. She said she backs the proposal to reclaim full control of the grid, adding that transmission lines should not have been privatized in the first place.

Sought for his reaction, Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla on Tuesday said he will reserve his judgment until after he gets the full audit report on the security aspects of the transmission system.

"But again, we fully appreciate the concern of Senator Hontiveros," Lotilla said in a virtual media briefing. "It is a concern that has been brought up in previous administrations as well, and we will continue to be alert…We will definitely engage the Senate after we have fully evaluated the audit report."

Meanwhile, in a separate statement on Monday, Sen. Chiz Escudero said in a separate statement on Monday the move to revert government ownership of companies might turn foreign investors off.

"The renationalization of formerly owned sold state assets is a policy that the national government should be very careful about or should be more circumspect about as it might send a wrong signal to existing potential investors," Escudero said in a statement posted on the Senate website.

Escudero said he will not support government acquisition of China's 40% stake in NGCP until he has "read the fine print and subject it to a thorough study."

"How much would this buyback cost?" he asked. "Do we even have the money given our huge debt? Are the current owners selling or will this be a forced sale? These are some of the questions that need answers."

He also questioned government capability to operate NGCP in the wake of power outages in parts of the country.

RELATED: Probe into successive power supply disturbances sought in Congress

"Kung power generation ang problema, are we not applying the wrong solution? Escudero pointed out. "Baka naman instead of finding solutions, we're looking for convenient scapegoats."

[Translation: If power generation is the problem, are we not applying the wrong solution? We might be looking at convenient scapegoats instead of finding solutions.]

The NGCP has yet to comment on issues raised by Tulfo and Escudero.