DoT Regional director Roberto P. Alabado III said the agency is optimistic that the number will increase with the Cebu Air, Inc. unitâ€™s twice-a-week service from the Singapore Changi Airport, which is a major international hub.
The Singapore-Davao route, for which Cebu Pacific launched a service in 2008 but discontinued, is currently covered solely by SilkAir (Singapore) Pte. Ltd., a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines, with nine flights a week.
Mr. Alabado said a delegation composed of representatives from the DoT, Davao City Tourism Office, Cebu Air and other private sector tourism stakeholders went to Singapore last week to â€œupdateâ€ the Singapore market on Davao Regionâ€™s offerings.
â€œ(We) did a product update and introduced to the Singapore business and tourism industry the new (Cebu Pacific) Davao-Singapore (flights) and oriented the Singaporeans what to expect here in Davao City,â€ Mr. Alabado said.
He said they emphasized the regionâ€™s eco-adventure and eco-tourism attractions, including mountain destinations and scuba diving, as well as food and cultural sites.
Mr. Alabado said the agency also received inquiries from private tour operators about halal offerings, which could bring in more Muslim visitors from various parts of Asia.
The DoT official admitted that strictly halal establishments have yet to be identified as they are still waiting for the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) from the National Commission of Muslim Filipinos (NMCF) on proper procedures for halal certification.
However, he stressed: â€œThere are some establishments here that practice halal since 10% of our population here is Muslim,â€ Mr. Alabado said.
Overall, Mr. Alabado said the agency is optimistic that the additional air services will boost tourism in the region.
â€œWe have created an impact and I hope business-to-business transaction would result to an increase in visitors coming from Singapore,â€ he said.
At the same time, Mr. Alabado said it is banking on the continued promotion of Davao City as a MICE (meeting, incentive, conference, exhibition) venue to keep visitors coming despite the setback from the still unresolved kidnapping incident in neighboring Samal Island in late September.
â€œWe have to take extra care now on whatâ€™s happening. We have talked to the (tourism) properties and resorts, and they said that they were affected by the incident,â€ he said, noting that local government units and police and military authorities have strengthened security measures in the region.
The DoT, he said, is giving an â€œextra pushâ€ in marketing Davao City and Samal Island, which offers beach destinations that the city does not have, as a combined destination.
â€œThe tourists take faith in our efforts and they continue to come here, and what happened in Samal was just a temporary setback,â€ he said. — Maya M. Padillo
The Mindanao Power Monitoring Committee, the multi-sectoral group that monitors the energy industry on the Philippinesâ€™ second largest island, reported on Tuesday afternoon that the water level of Lake Lanao, which powers the Agus plant, has gone down to near the minimum operating level of 699.15 meters above sea level (masl) at 699.24 masl.
In Pulangi, located in Bukidnon, the water level at Pulangi 4 was at 280.4 masl, four meters lower than the normal operating point.
The monitoring committee reported that the Pulangi plant is currently able to supply only 20 MW out of its rated capacity of 250 megawatts, â€œlargely on account of siltation.â€
Supplies were further reduced over the weekend after one of the two coal-fired 105-MW units of Steag State Power, Inc. in Misamis Oriental and the 110-MW Mt. Apo geothermal plant in Kidapawan City were shut down for maintenance.
The Steag plant is scheduled to return to go online on Aug. 16 while the geothermal facility is expected to be completed by July 27.
The 150-MW additional capacity from Therma South, Inc.â€™s new coal-fired power plant in the Davao Region that was expected to go online into the main grid by late June or early July remains under the synchronization process.
The synchronization process requires a stable power supply in the main grid, but company officials declined to confirm that this is causing the delay.
BROWNOUTS IN CITIES
The supply deficit has prompted rotational power cuts in Mindanaoâ€™s major cities.
Impact has been worst in Zamboanga City in the west, which has already been experiencing up to eight-hour brownouts since early this year.
As of yesterday, the Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative, Inc. (Zamcelco) had scheduled cuts lasting from five to nine hours.
In an advisory issued July 21, Zamcelco cited reduced supply due to maintenance work on the plants of Mapalad Power Corp. and Therma Marine, Inc. (TMI) besides those of Steag, Agus and Pulangi.
The Cagayan Electric Power and Light Company, Inc. (Cepalco), which distributes electricity in parts of Misamis Oriental, including the Northern Mindanao hub Cagayan de Oro City and the PHIVIDEC Industrial Estate, is implementing four-hour brownouts until July 26.
No interruptions were scheduled by the South Cotabato II Electric Cooperative, Inc. (SOCOTECO II), which serves General Santos City and the provinces of South Cotabato and Sarangani in Central Mindanao.
SOCOTECO IIâ€™s power supply has been boosted by the dedicated 20.9-MW bunker-fired plant of Peakpower Soccsargen, Inc., a subsidiary of Peakpower Energy, Inc., which started operations in November last year.
In Davao City, considered as the main gateway and has the highest power demand in Mindanao, electricity distributor Davao Light and Power Co. (Davao Light) has increased the rotational outages to two hours a day from only one at the start of the week.
In a press statement, Davao Light, an Aboitiz Power Corp. (AboitizPower) subsidiary, said its daily demand could reach 325 MW, which is more than the available supply from the grid and its backup sources.
Davao Light has about 120 MW of alternative power sources, including 40-MW from its own standby plant in the city, 50 MW of hydropower from sister company Hedcor, Inc., and 30 MW from TMI, another AboitizPower firm, which operates two power barges. — Carmelito Q. Francisco
But Energy Undersecretary Zenaida U. Monsada said that Congress must ensure that the government is ready to provide subsidies for operations if the facilities are to remain under state control.
Two bills approved by the House Committee on Energy seek to retain the two power generators in the southernmost part of the Philippines as state-owned, with one bill seeking to create a separate Mindanao Power Corp. (MINPOCOR) to run the facility.
Keeping the Agus-Pulangui hydrocomplexes state-owned was also included as one of three proposed amendments to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) of 2001, which was finalized by the panel on June 9.
â€œWe support that, but whatâ€™s questionable there which is with Congress is if they will subsidize it,â€ Ms. Monsada said in a recent interview on the sidelines of an energy forum for legislators.
The Agus and Pulangui hydroelectric plants supply more than half of the power needs in Mindanao, a region that has experienced constant blackouts due to lack of power reserves.
Since the EPIRA was signed by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, all assets owned by the National Power Corp. were put on the auction block for privatization. But the Energy department has since decided to postpone the sale of the Agus-Pulangui hydroplants.
Once created, the MINPOCOR will serve as a nonprofit government corporation, and is given the power of â€œreasonableâ€ rate fixing and pro-rata allocation for local electric cooperatives and distribution units, with the goal of keeping power rates low.
Also sought for comment, House energy committee chairman Rep. Reynaldo V. Umali (Oriental Mindoro, 2nd district) said he is unsure whether the bills can still see enactment as these will still have to pass through the legislative mill.
The bills approved by the committee will have to be approved by the House plenary and also by the Senate before it can possibly be forwarded to the President for signing into law.
But in an earlier interview, Senate Energy committee chairman Sergio R. OsmeÃ±a III said he sees no need to amend the countryâ€™s power sector law, dimming the chances for such changes to prosper. Congress is currently on a six-week break, and will resume on July 27. Sessions will end early February of next year.
Two of the projects — to be built in Bukidnon — will have capacities of 10 MW each; while the other one in Misamis Oriental will produce 12 MW.
Development of the biomass projects, MGE Chairman James R. MacKay said, will take around nine months.
â€œWeâ€™re spending $3 million per MW for all-in costs, including the turbines,â€ Mr. MacKay said in a chance interview in Bonifacio Global City. MGE, he said, will provide project financing and will develop the resource that will be used for the project.
â€œWe will bring the biomass crop called bana grass. Itâ€™s a sister to napier grass but you only plant it one time,â€ Mr. MacKay said.
The crop yields up to 600 wet tons per hectare annually for 30 years and can be harvested thrice a year, he said.
â€œThis crop is a dedicated biomass therefore it doesnâ€™t interfere with the food crop. The stems of the crop are really good for biomass for existing steam boilers,â€ Mr. MacKay said.
The bana grass can also be converted to clean coal, he said. â€œWe have contracts here for Korea, Japan and Spainâ€¦ They are using it for existing coal power plants,â€ he said.
MGE currently has plantations in Negros Island, Nueva Ecija and Leyte. The company is also expanding its presence in Cebu and Mindanao.
The bana grass originally are planted as windbreak for crops like sugar cane since they can grow up to 28 feet. — Claire-Ann Marie C. Feliciano