IN every election campaign it’s almost obligatory for candidates for national positions to promise that they would work for full electrification of the country. That promise, however, is, more often than not, made to be broken.
After all, the Philippines is an archipelagic country with more than 7,100 islands. If connecting the remote areas in the three main islands to the national grid is already a big problem, as it would definitely cost a lot of taxpayers’ money, bringing electricity to the thousands of small islands scattered across the length and breadth of the archipelago would entail much more in terms of time, effort and resources, even with renewable-energy sources in wider use nowadays.
If total electrification remains an elusive goal and the hinterlands remain in the Dark Age, while the urban areas have already reached the 21st century, it’s probably also due to the fact that those tapped to undertake energy development under previous administrations may have allowed partisan political considerations to get in the way.
The Department of Energy (DOE) plays a very important role in the country’s economic development and social progress. It is mandated by Republic Act 7638, or the Department of Energy Act of 1992, to prepare, integrate, coordinate, supervise and control all plans, programs, projects and activities of the government concerned with energy exploration, development, utilization, distribution and conservation.
The DOE mission, in partnership with stakeholders, is to improve the quality of life of Filipinos by formulating and implementing policies and programs to ensure sustainable, stable, secure, sufficient, and accessible energy. In pursuit of this mission, it has committed itself to render efficient service with utmost integrity and professionalism, and works under pertinent energy and power-related legislation, including the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001, Biofuels Act of 2006 and the Renewable Energy Act of 2008.
All this makes the job of DOE secretary a most daunting one.
Not one to shy away from big challenges, self-made entrepreneur and PDP Laban Vice Chairman Alfonso G. Cusi has accepted the appointment offered by President-elect Rodrigo R. Duterte to head the DOE.
“I am truly honored and humbled by my appointment as the new secretary of the Department of Energy,” Cusi told media. “I will strive to do my best to help the Duterte administration achieve electrification of the entire country, ensure reliable, steady and affordable power supply and work toward greater energy self-sufficiency as part of its agenda of sustained economic growth, social progress and political stability in the next six years,” he added.
This will be Cusi’s first Cabinet-level position. He served as general manager of the Manila International Airport Authority and head of the Philippine Ports Authority during the Arroyo administration. He was also appointed the director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (Caap) in March 2010. The Caap was established by RA 9497 in March 2008, close on the heels of the January 2008 downgrade of the Philippine aviation industry from Category 1 to Category 2 by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) based on its Aviation Safety Audit in November 2007.
As soon as Cusi took over the Caap, he immediately implemented a top-to-bottom house-cleaning and instituted various organizational reforms, while also keeping an eye on solving the key problems of the aviation industry. When he resigned from the post in December 2010 with the Aquino administration in place, he had already made significant headway in regaining for the Philippine aviation industry the Category 1 status from the FAA.
Cusi is the chairman of a Batangas-based shipping firm, Starlite Ferries Inc., which is now in the forefront of serious efforts to modernize the domestic maritime industry by acquiring brand-new roll-on, roll-off (Roro) inter-island vessels from Japan. Starlite plans to eventually build a fleet of seven Roro ships designed specifically for operation in the rough waters within the Philippine archipelago.
Cusi will have to give up his seat at the helm of Starlite Ferries once he takes over the DOE post starting in July this year and assists Duterte and his economic team in implementing its eight-point economic agenda.
The Philippines holds the dubious distinction of having one of the highest electricity costs in Asia at present. That’s one reason foreign investors have been putting their money in business ventures in other Southeast Asian countries.
And Cusi will have his hands full trying to bring about the reforms that will make power costs in the country within the reach of everyone.
First on the DOE agenda when he takes over as energy secretary is to ensure energy security, which calls for accelerating the exploration and development of oil, gas and coal resources, and intensifying the development and utilization of renewable and environment-friendly alternative energy resources and technologies. The second thrust is to pursue reforms to promote an efficient, competitive, transparent and reliable energy sector, while the third is to promote good governance in the energy sector.
With his broad experience in public office and as an entrepreneur, Cusi is in a unique position to make a difference in his latest job. He is described by friends as a “silent worker”, but can carry a big stick when the occasion calls for it. Integrity, competence and political will may just be what’s needed to give the energy department a turbo boost in the coming six years.