WHEN Globe’s “immortal text” service went inactive last February 16, I was extremely pestered, along with scores of my friends, who often used this “promo,” as said by Globe’s customer care when I e-mailed them about whether the service would come back. Truth be told, it is the best service that Globe gave to its medium-high rate users because it had no expiry. Then the Autoload (electronic credit loading system of Globe) seemed to have crashed on the 20th. Just my two cents, but it seems coincidental that the expiry of the “immortal call” service was the next day.

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The coming elections are marred with doubts that the automated election processes would fail due to signal jammers and hackers. But the lack of power within the grid could topple all aspects of the elections.

The reasons behind the power outages are quite apparent: the El Niño. The heat has been sweltering these past few days, and droughts may have to be declared in some parts of the country later this year. According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Polangui and Agus dams have been generating half their output since the El Niño came: from 255 and 727 megawatts (MW), respectively to more or less half their working capacity—126 and 315 MW, respectively. As of this writing, there are eight hours of blackouts in Mindanao. The problem with Mindanao is their high dependence on hydroelectric power.

But even power cuts in Luzon and Visayas are starting to occur due to the swift drop of water levels in the Angat, Magat, Pantabangan, San Roque, and Binga dams, said the National Power Corporation (Napocor) in the same paper last February 26. Sounds rather ironic from what deputy presidential spokesperson Charito Planas told the Philippine Star last February 20 that the power cuts would not reach Luzon and Visayas.

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This problem strikes at the crux of the elections. Where there is no electricity, there can definitely be no election operations. The answer hardly lies in the delegation of emergency powers to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who may even use such powers to her advantage during election time as it falls on El Niño days. I highly perceive that the Precinct Count Optical Scan voting machines need more than 12-16 hours’ worth of battery life, so think of the other possible sources of power.

First is the revival of the nuclear power plant. Columnist Efren Danao of the Manila Times relates that the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant could be revived, but it is a sensitive topic. Sen. Edgardo Angara said that he doubts that there will be a similar incident, but we simply do not have the nuclear scientists to operate such a plant. Personally, I think a nuclear plan would have serious environmental, and even international implications for the Philippines. And would it be prudent to spend valuable money and time on the cleaning and start-up of such a huge plant?

Power barges (literally floating power plants that run on fuel or coal) are also seen as a solution. There are at least four oil-powered barges with a capacity of 32 MW that are in operation, according to the Napocor website. It may be enough to power a community, but since the provinces of Mindanao are mostly landlocked with sparse rivers, it may take some time to adjust the power grid so electricity can be tapped to specific power lines.

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Many doubts and problems are plaguing Mindanao’s elections, such as the lack of security markings in the region’s ballots along with the power supply problem. Would it be therefore reasonable to just revert to manual counting at least in that region? The tedious process may be costly, yes, but the potential costs may be too much for the government should the power plants overload due to the high demand and break down.

But in the end, costs should be nothing. May 10 should be one of the most crucial elections and its results must be truly representative of the people’s choice. The date is an important occasion for us to do our job. But should real people power be blemished by the lack of power?

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