Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

A spectre is haunting the Philippine islands – the spectre of rotating brownouts.

Luzon is continually plagued by 1-3 hours of brownouts everyday. Even Mega Manila, the seat of government and major economic hub of the country, suffers from daily power blackouts. The whole of Mindanao was recently put under state of calamity because of the power supply crisis. How cruel, the powerless have literally no power in their homes.

I am writing this blog entry in South Cotabato where residents are forced to endure 10-12 hours of power disruptions. Just imagine the social and economic impact of the rotating brownouts. Small entrepreneurs cannot buy power generators, government offices cannot provide sustained services, consumers cannot watch TV or sleep comfortably, and even election candidates cannot hold campaign rallies in the evening because of the power woes.

Is climate change the real reason why several major plants conked out in the past few months? Is there a genuine power supply crisis or is there a sinister plot by clever people to create a believable crisis in order to justify shock therapies like higher power rates, bloated contracts with Independent Power Producer, and the revival of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant? So many vested interests are trying to use the energy crisis to make money or gain more power.

Some people suggested that the rotating brownout is the country’s daily Earth Hour pledge. Oo nga naman, araw-araw may Earth Hour sa bansa. Sobra pa nga ng isang oras eh. Others joked that it is a ploy by the administration to refresh the memories of the people about the 10-12 hours of brownouts during the term of “Calamity Cory” in order to weaken the candidacy of Noynoy.

Whether the power crisis is genuine or not, it is an indictment on the state of governance in the Philippines. It exposes the lack of vision of the current and previous administrations. Don’t blame mother nature and high fertility rates, matagal na nating alam na may pagbabago sa klima at mahilig gumawa ng baby ang mga Pinoy. Why didn’t the government anticipate the current power shortage?

The spectre of rotating brownout is not a technical problem; it is a political issue involving greedy oligarchs and power-hungry dynasts. Therefore, the crisis requires a political solution.

Usage of the term ‘rotating brownout’ always pertains to a technical matter but actually the term is very political. It is an apt metaphor for the type of politics in the country. The term can refer to the kind of leadership practiced by politicians, especially during elections.

If the goal of politics should be the empowerment of the people, then what we have in the Philippines is “rotating politics.” Politics comes alive only when politicians visit their constituents during the campaign period every three years or every ribbon cutting ceremony. But for the rest of the year, “politics” is invisible or dead.

Good governance should lead to a fair distribution of resources in the cities and provinces but “rotating politics” produces only lopsided economic development. Infrastructure projects and public funds are treated as gifts to be given by the president to loyal underlings in the provinces. And so local politicians patiently wait for their turn to receive precious government funds from the president when she visits a province or city. Sorry na lang kung di makabisita si presidente, sa susunod na skedyul na lang. This is rotating politics.

At the local level, politicians are like rotating brownouts. May iskedyul ang pagdating nila sa mga baryo during fiesta, graduation, Christmas party and ofcourse during election campaign period. But unlike rotating brownouts which bring darkness to communities, politicians always “bring home the bacon.” They distribute cash gifts, scholarships, movie tickets, water pumps, fertilizer (no condoms, magagalit ang Obispo). They bring entertainment and happiness during campaign sorties. The visit proves the so-called goodness of politicians (but the people need good governance!) and sympathy of leaders to the plight of the poor (not charity, but justice!).

The opposite of rotating brownouts is adequate energy supply and efficient energy infrastructure. The opposite of rotating politics is good governance. Political power should not be equated with the opportunity to mingle with and laugh at politicians during weddings, funerals and Christmas parties. It should refer to the ability of citizens to access state-sponsored services and other social welfare claims all-year round. More importantly, it means citizens and citizen groups are ready and allowed to make politicians accountable for their wrongdoings.

Today the scourge of rotating brownouts makes life more miserable in these unhappy isles. But misery can turn into rage and rage can lead to resistance and resistance provokes change. The spectre of rotating brownouts can make the people yearn for a revolution.

Darkness envelops the Philippines everyday because of the rotating brownouts. We are literally and symbolically living in darkness. During these dark times, the people must fight back. There must be pockets of revolt in every dark corner of the archipelago. Dark Knights must join the army of change. This is a struggle to bring forward the torch of new politics. Fight darkness. Spread the light.

Related articles:

Poverty and system losses
Nuclear option

2 Responses to “Rotating brownouts and politics”

  1. spread the light!

    natawa ako sa linyang
    “mahilig gumawa ng baby ang mga pilipino” hehehe


  2. Dont just point your finger on our Gov’t and blame it all to them. We, Filipinos, have participation on this too. Una sa lahat, sino bang nagluklok sa mga pulitikong nabanggit sa article mo? 🙂 Just sayin’


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