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NGCP: All-Filipino team controls power grid

By: - Reporter / @MRamosINQ
/ 04:56 AM February 19, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — China’s 40-percent stake in the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) did not give them direct control over the country’s power transmission network, top NGCP officials said on Tuesday.

Putting his foot down on the issue, NGCP president and CEO Anthony Almeda said the daily operations of the 5,000-strong company, including its engineering and technical divisions, had been under an all-Filipino team as he dismissed claims that Chinese nationals were at the helm of its management.

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For the nth time, the top NGCP executive maintained that the country’s power distribution system was safe from foreign intrusion, rejecting speculations that China could remotely shut down the system through NGCP’s foreign partner, the State Grid Corp. of China.

“At the end of the day, it’s [just] us and … we will always protect the grid for the next several years. That’s what I can assure you,” Almeda said during a roundtable interview with a group of Inquirer reporters and editors.

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‘I take control of everything’

“I will [state] this very clearly. I’m the one in charge of the company. Whether it [concerns] national security, I take full responsibility for it. Whether there’s a Chinese [employee in our company], I take control of everything,” he stressed.

“And we have a [management] board that’s 60 percent [owned by Filipinos]. So we control the board [and] whatever decisions we make,” he added. “I can assure you 100 percent that (NGCP) is controlled by Filipinos. You can take our word for it.”

Almeda said NGCP’s majority owners, business tycoons Henry Sy Jr. and Robert Coyiuto Jr., were “active” and “very strong” in steering the company’s operations.

When asked about the cause of their rift with certain government officials, Almeda said: “Nobody questioned how we manage our company [before]. It’s just now because there are people who are not friendly to us.”

“But we will just have to move on and do our work every day. We will just answer all the issues,” he added.

The NGCP had been under scrutiny recently after senators raised concerns over the possibility that China, which had been embroiled in a maritime dispute with the Philippines and other countries in the South China Sea, could shut down the country’s power distribution system with just the push of a button.

Melvin Matibag, president of the state-run Transmission Corp. of the Philippines (Transco), told a Senate budget hearing in November last year that it was “possible” to control the NGCP’s operation “given the technological advancement right now in telecommunications.” He did not elaborate.

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No access via internet

But NGCP spokesperson Cynthia Alabanza insisted that the company’s supervisory control and data acquisition system (Scada), which runs the grid, is a stand-alone and self-contained unit that cannot be accessed through the internet, contrary to Matibag’s claim.

“You would have to call at the very least 200 substation managers and have them shut off several breakers in each of these substations one by one so it’s not one button and it’s not remote. It has to be done manually,” Alabanza had said.

She also assailed Matibag’s statements to the media and the Senate, dismissing them as “mistruths” about the NGCP’s operations.

“We have always played by the rules since day one,” Alabanza said.

Transco used to run the country’s sole power grid until 2009 when NGCP won the bidding for its entire operations and management, making it one of the biggest privatization projects of the government.

Matibag’s claim prompted Sen. Risa Hontiveros to seek a “security audit” of NGCP to check if the Chinese really had access to the country’s power transmission system.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, chair of the energy committee, had also expressed similar apprehension after learning that a certain Wen Bo, a Chinese national, had previously occupied a high managerial post at NGCP.

But Ronald Dylan Concepcion, NGCP assistant corporate secretary, said Wen only briefly worked in an “advisory capacity” as the company’s “chief technical officer” during the early stages of their takeover of Transco’s facilities.

He said the role of “foreign technical partners” in NGCP’s operations was actually a requirement of the law and that their Chinese personnel had the necessary work permits from the government.

“To tell you the truth, we have a number of Chinese employees when we started. Since 2015, there are now only four Chinese (nationals) who sit on the board. But only three of them are staying in the country in ‘advisory capacity,’” Concepcion said.

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TAGS: Anthony Almeda, Chinese investors, NGCP, PH power distribution system
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