DAVAO CITY -- Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) on Sunday warned of "severe" job losses in Mindanao, which is now under a state of calamity due to crippling power shortage.

"Industries reeling from recurring brownouts there are already aggressively carrying out coping strategies that include fewer work shifts and the rotation of workers," said TUCP secretary-general and former senator Ernesto Herrera.

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He said the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) should step in and find ways to mitigate the plight of workers displaced by the brownouts that last from eight to 10 hours, and extend them emergency assistance.

Among the power-intensive industries being hit hard by the brownouts are steel and cement manufacturing, canning, commercial fishing (particularly cold storage), mining and quarrying, food processing, telecommunications, and retail trade.

"Mindanao risks not just temporary but long-term economic losses. We're afraid Mindanao's ability to draw incremental foreign and local investments, and create badly needed new jobs, could be impaired if the power shortage there is not fixed right away," said Herrera.

The power crisis in Mindanao has been aggravated by the prolonged dry spell due to the El Niño phenomenon, which has reduced the region’s hydropower capacity since late January. The island draws 70 percent of its electricity from hydropower plants.

With the shortage, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo earlier declared a state of calamity in the entire region to enable provincial, city, and municipal governments on the island to acquire extra generators without going through the usual procurement process.

She placed the National Government’s calamity fund at P10 billion, of which P5.5 billion were allocated for the power sector and P4.5 billion for agriculture.

On Sunday, leaders in Mindanao called on the National Government to immediately release the P10-billion calamity fund as the El Niño phenomenon continues to wreak havoc on the power and agriculture sectors in the country.

Representatives Rodolfo Plaza (Agusan del Sur), Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro City), and Francisco T. Matugas (Surigao del Norte), as well as the governors and mayors said the fund will be a “big help” to the farmers and the power industry sector.

“We hope that this calamity fund will be released as early as possible,” said Matugas.

“I also hope that this fund will be properly distributed,” said Plaza.

Rodriguez, for his part, called for the creation of a multi-sectoral calamity fund management task force for the purpose of transparency, especially that under the law, bidding is no longer needed.

“The church will be involved, aside from the business sector, in the planning since the task force will be the one to present and explain where the calamity fund goes,” Rodriguez said.

He suggested the use of P5.5 billion initial funds to purchase modular generating sets to generate additional capacity of 160 megawatts (MW) in Mindanao.

“I also asked for additional P4.5 billion funds for immediate assistance to farmers affected by the dry spell in Mindanao,” he added.

In Northern Mindanao alone, at least 14,000 hectares of agricultural lands were already destroyed by the dry spell.

Rodriguez said the declaration of a state of calamity will also enable local government units to use five percent of their calamity fund to address the power crisis.

As of Sunday, data from the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) systems operations group showed a 100-MW spike in power demand in the region with the match between Filipino boxing icon Manny Pacquiao and Joshua Clottey of Ghana.

A television set can consume power from 130-380 megawatts depending on the model. Add to that the malls, movie houses, and other commercial establishments that opened for business at a much earlier time Sunday to accommodate customers who wanted to watch the fight live via satellite on big screens.

NGCP said power demand on a regular Sunday is between 800 MW to 900 MW, thus it was expected that Sunday's demand was between 900 MW to 1,000 MW.

In its latest monitoring, NGCP reported that Mindanao has 602 MW of deficiency in production, lower by almost 150 MW compared to last week's 748-MW deficiency.

Available capacity in Mindanao has also increased to 805 MW last Saturday, while peak demand remained to be at 1,407 MW.

NGCP said the main problem with the power supply in Mindanao is the drying up of water reservoirs of National Power Corporation’s hydropower plants due to the dry spell. (PNA/CPM of Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)