Electric co-ops blast Solar Para Sa Bayan’s recent rate hike in Mindoro

CONSUMERS in an Occidental Mindoro town have raised concerns on the alleged recent electricity rate hike imposed by Solar Para Sa Bayan Corp. (SPSB), according to the Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association, Inc. (PHILRECA). In a statement late Wednesday, PHILRECA said it received complaints from residents in Paluan town over SPSB’s rate increase to P18 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) from P8/kWh. The rural utilities group alleged that SPSB did not secure the approval of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to raise rates, which took effect beginning in the March billing period. It shared with BusinessWorld a copy of a customer’s April billing statement showing a household that consumed 91 kWh was charged P1,638. “By increasing the tariff to a rate that is almost double the existing rates in surrounding electric cooperatives — without proper public hearing and without approval by the ERC, Solar Para sa Bayan has violated all of its responsibility to the public as set in R.A. (Republic Act) 11357,” PHILRECA claimed. PHILRECA was one of the organizations that opposed SPSB’s franchise, which was granted in July 2019. SPSB is owned by Leandro L. Leviste, the son of former senator and now Antique Rep. Loren B. Legarda. The company is controlled by renewable energy firm Solar Philippines Power Project Holdings, Inc. Mr. Leviste was sought for comment but has yet to reply as of press time. — Adam J. Ang

ADB-funded lab equipment to be set up in Pampanga hospital

LABORATORY equipment procured through an Asian Development Bank fund will be set up at the Jose B. Lingad Memorial Regional Hospital in Pampanga for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) tests. Department of Health (DoH) Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire said the facility is expected to handle up to 5,000 samples per day coming from the Central Luzon region and nearby areas. “Mas bibilis ang turnaround time at mas makakapagtanggap pa tayo ng mas maraming mga tests dito sa mga laboratoryo natin dito sa (The turnaround time will be faster and we will be able to receive more tests here in our laboratories in) Metro Manila,” she said in a virtual briefing on Thursday. The DoH on Tuesday announced the arrival from China of laboratory equipment worth US $2.5 million, which can do up to 45,000 tests daily. There are currently 17 DoH-accredited COVID-19 laboratories nationwide. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Cebu City lockdown extended to May 15

IMPLEMENTATION of quarantine measures in Cebu City has been extended to May 15, Mayor Edgardo F. Labella announced late Wednesday after the number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients in the city was reported to have shot up by 80% to 312. There were 139 new cases on April 22, including 123 within the Cebu City Jail. Another big cluster of cases is in Barangay Luz with over 140. “There is a need to extend our ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) in Cebu City as COVID-19 cases continue to rise due to the fact that we have been doing targeted, massive testing in the barangays, where there are positive cases,” Mr. Labella said in a statement. “We have been hoping for the best, but at the same time, expecting the worst that could happen in order for us to be prepared in addressing this pandemic,” he added. Cebu City is the center of the Central Visayas Region, which had a total of 346 COVID-19 cases as of April 22. — Marifi S. Jara

Iloilo City eyes P15M COVID-19 mobile testing laboratory

THE Iloilo City government is looking at purchasing a P15 million mobile testing laboratory for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). “We are checking if this can be made possible. If we can use this, we will purchase it,” Mayor Jerry P. Treñas said. The laboratory will use a 40-footer container van that will be fitted with medical equipment and supplies. Mr. Treñas said they have also sought comment from the Department of Health (DoH) if such a facility could possibly be accredited by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM). “If this van can be accredited by RITM, then we will conduct our COVID-19 testing here and we can purchase more test kits. DoH said they can help us with the accreditation and training of medical personnel,” he said. The fund will be sourced from the one-month Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) granted to the city worth P94 million for COVID-19 response under the Bayanihan Grant. The Western Visayas Medical Center, located in the city, is currently the only accredited COVID-19 testing laboratory for the Western Visayas Region. The West Visayas State University Medical Center is still in the first stage of the accreditation process. — Emme Rose S. Santiagudo

Davao City locks down several villages as it grapples with COVID-19 local transmission cases; DoH boosts contact-tracing

PARTS of several villages or barangays in Davao City have been locked down following the confirmation of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases in these areas. “The difference between them (and other areas) is that they needed to be placed on lockdown because they are densely populated areas. We know that if an area is densely populated, the virus will spread faster,” Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio said over the city government-run radio station. In one of the barangays, 23-C, 56 people identified to have had exposure to the COVID-19 patient were moved to a quarantine center. Medical teams have also been deployed to conduct random testing to determine the extent of the transmission. City Police Director Kirby John B. Kraft, in a text message, said he has ordered the setting up of checkpoints around the affected areas to prevent residents from leaving or visitors from coming in. Meanwhile, the Department of Health-Davao Region office (DoH-11) is tapping the new Contact Tracing Teams (CTTs), led by the Department of Interior and Local Government, that will be formed in line with the government’s plan for nationwide expanded testing procedures. DOH-11 Assistant Regional Director Lenny Joy J. Rivera told media in a virtual presser on Tuesday that the CTTs can help resume contact tracing for the those linked to participants of a series of cockfighting events, which has been determined as a major source of local transmission cases. “DoH will still be helping and these agencies will be assisting us when it comes to carrying out the interim guidelines for the conduct of the expanded testing for COVID- 19,” Ms. Rivera said. — Carmelito Q. Francisco and Maya M. Padillo