China potentially have the power to be able to turn off the Philippines national grid, officials have said. Chinese engineers could send the Philippines into darkness via a remote operating system which is situated in Nanjing, China. Senators are wanting an investigation into this due to the implications it could have on national security of the Philippines. Moreover, china also has similar agreements in Kenya, Thailand and Indonesia.
The Philippine senators are demanding an investigation into the power China has by having a part ownership of the grid and therefore having the authority to put the nation into a blackout with the switch of a button.
Melvin Matibag, the president of the National Transmission Corporation, did confirm that these is a ‘possibility’ of such events taking place during conversations with the Senate over the government’s budget for next year.
The Chinese grid has a 40% share of the national grid in the Philippines which is ran by the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines who are privately ran and have ran the power lines since 2009.
The national transmission corporation previously ran the power lines but now overwatches the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines but has limited access to what they can do.
The senator of the opposition liberal party in the Philippines, Risa Hontiveros, first raised concerns over the extent of the control China could have over the grid after the continuing territorial disagreements between the two nations over the South China Sea. She stated that the Chinese engineers hold an ‘enormous power’ as they are able to control and manage the Philippines electricity. She also questioned what the consequences would be if someone in Beijing were to turn off the power.
The reply to such question came from the chair of the Senate committee, Sherwin Gatchalian, who is in charge of defending the energy department of the government budget. He said that TransCo have looked into the possibility of this happening and even if a takeover from Beijing happened, Transco have the technical ability to manually take them over.
Gatchalian went on to state that there is a clause in the franchise agreement of the national grid which means that the president of the Philippines has the power to reclaim all the energy assets in the event if any ‘public peril’. He also went on to say that national security will be 100% protected but the clause will only apply if the Philippines are not being invaded, therefore it does become an issue if the Philippines are being invade and are then blacked out.
It would take TransCo from 24 to 48 hours to override a shutdown, depending on the size of the shutdown, which is enough time to cause large scale problems for businesses
However, recent media reports have claimed that only foreign engineers would be able to fix a black out due to the remote location of the monitoring and control system. Other reports have also claimed that the instruction manuals for the system are in Chinese and therefore the native Filipino engineers are not able to operate the system as they are not able to read the instructions.
The group that have control of the Philippines national grid, also have similar systems in place for Thailand, Indonesia and Kenya. The situation in the Philippines may show assurance or caution to these nations depending on how it escalates over time.