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No pandemic too dark as Meralco targets 100 pct electrification

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The community quarantines have been an opportunity for Meralco to demonstrate its purpose: bring light to its unserved and underserved customers through its electrification program (MEP).
And now, the country’s largest power distributor is set to rev up its resources in service of that idea, and see its entire franchise area all lit by June, earmarking P1.1 billion for the remaining projects under the MEP.

It is set to complete priority two and three groups, which cover 536 and close to 27,000 households with December 2020 and June 2021 completion targets.

As of December 2020, Meralco has energized 296 sites for a 55 percent energization level, with 240 sites now on the construction stage.

With the completion of these projects, Meralco will have already complied with the 100 percent household electrification as envisioned by the Department of Energy and the Duterte administration.

Full support

Through and through, Meralco has been one with the government in extending to public initiatives whatever it is in its power to help.

Case in point: It has worked round-the-clock to ensure the immediate development of an enhanced electrical system for COVID-19 treatment facilities, in support of the plans of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to convert these public venues into counter-pandemic hubs.

Highlighting Meralco’s commitment to the COVID-19 public-private partnership was the announcement by its President and CEO Ray C. Espinosa who assured the public that “all hands are on deck to ensure Meralco runs like clockwork. Our company continues to keep up the good fight and sustains our mission to keep the lights on for each and every single customer in our franchise area. Going beyond the power and light we deliver this current crisis that our country faces calls for us to be a beacon of reliability and hope. We are keeping the lights on for our customers as we also provision for the safety and comfort of our employees.”

With the present health climate, realizing this, however, has been a tall order, as challenges abound and, at that, exponential. Be that as it may, Meralco Networks Head Ronnie Aperocho said their strategies are very simple: External stakeholder engagement and availability of resources.

“First, you work closely with external stakeholders like the government agencies (like local government units and the DPWH in this case). Because in a lot of cases, it is
the DPWH that requests for the quick energization of these facilities,” he said.

The timelines and deadlines are very tight. Sitting down with the requesting party is critical. Aperocho said they immediately create a Viber group that involves internal and external stakeholders, where they talk seriously 24/7 on how to go about the requirements, fees, permits, and rights of way.

To fast-track processes, Meralco assigns point persons on their side to whom external stakeholders can talk about their concerns, while at the same time ensuring the availability of tools, having no problem with logistics and inventory needs.

“Under the new normal conditions, our processes, which used to take steps one, two, and three, we tried to bypass them, so we could hasten the processes.

Sometimes, even when there’s no design of the building yet, we anticipate already by digging holes for our posts beforehand so that the materials are prepared. The payments are to follow later sometimes. What’s important is we execute it fast,” Aperocho said.

Meralco finished energizing the Solaire-Pagcor Mega Quarantine Facility last August 29, with a bed capacity of 525.

“We have quarantine facilities and container vans at the CCP complex for the locally stranded individuals. They want to immediately put on electricity even when the load side has yet to be ready! So, what happened is that Meralco itself initiated laying the wires and groundwork for the load side, and, when they could not immediately connect to the main line, they requested that we provide the generation sets,” Aperocho said.

Espinosa

“You know electric systems and facilities: That’s electricity. If you make an error on the design, you failed to consider engineering parameters and clearances correctly that could pose safety issues. But we believe in our engineers. The only problem sometimes is that the requirements of the requesting parties change,” Aperocho added. “You have to stretch your patience because these are emergency situations that require quick actions.”

“The key takeaway is this: We are a public utility. Our battle cry is keeping the lights on. But, for us to do that, we have to keep our people up and well,” Aperocho said. “Meaning, our life is on our people. To keep the continuous supply, our people should be healthy and motivated.”

Employees valued

According to Aperocho, the availability of personnel is the most crucial of all because, on top of this, Meralco also has business-as-usual requirements, constantly putting up facilities to ensure reliable service to its customers.

Meralco’s strategy requires that they should readily have available manpower to be deployed anytime for the quick energization of facilities. Given the strict protocols, what Meralco did is it locked down healthy core groups of personnel. The sleeping quarters and pantry are isolated, and they are provided with amenities and personal protective equipment (PPE). Medical checkups are regular to ensure the health of all personnel.

“The situation is very different now. Unlike before, when a disaster or a calamity hits, we even go out of our franchise area — to, say, the Visayas, Bicol, Cagayan — where we extend help, especially when it comes to co-ops and restoration. It’s different because, now, employees are exposed to the virus so there are many protocols you have to follow,” Aperocho said. “It’s been really a challenge because of the nature of our jobs — for example, our linemen, they have to work closely together so that they could do it safely and efficiently.”

Aperocho added: “We’re coping up with the situation by providing our linemen with personal protective equipment. Most of them are front liners — but you can only be impressed with their spirit because they keep on fighting. There are fears and doubts. But, if they’re called to work, they would.”

Aperocho said it’s a good thing that, in Meralco, the testing is done regularly. And, if there are few symptoms, the employees immediately go directly with their own volition to the clinic where they are guided and isolated. Meralco put up quarantine and isolation facilities for its employees.

“The key takeaway is this: We are a public utility. Our battle cry is keeping the lights on. But, for us to do that, we have to keep our people up and well,” Aperocho said. “Meaning, our life is on our people. To keep the continuous supply, our people should be healthy and motivated.”

Housing homeless heroes

Meralco extends it beyond electricity.

At the onset of community quarantine imposed in Metro Manila and Luzon, Meralco’s corporate social arm One Meralco Foundation (OMF) has initiated efforts to help the homeless cope with the situation. The Foundation provided personal protective equipment (PPE) to medical personnel fighting the Coronal Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) at the frontlines.

Without a roof over their heads, families living on the streets are among the most vulnerable, unable to gain enough nourishment and to protect themselves from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the disease. This is why the Foundation prioritized them in its distribution of care packages just days after Metro Manila and most parts of the country were placed under an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in the middle of March 2020.

At the end of the year, OMF distributed care packages to close to 10,000 marginalized families in the Meralco franchise area and beyond.

The foundation also launched an online campaign dubbed “Help from Home” within the Meralco organization to provide street dwellers with food, potable water, face masks, and disinfectants. This project was a collaboration of OMF, Caritas Manila, and Project Ugnayan of the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDF). It raised more than P2 million from Meralco employees. The project also funded OMF’s continuing relief efforts.

During the first few months of the Philippines’ bout with COVID-19, several private and government-owned referral hospitals experienced a shortage of supplies of PPEs for healthcare personnel attending to a rising number of COVID-19 patients. PPEs not only offer much-needed protection to medical workers but also prevent the further dwindling of hospitals’ human resources available to care for incoming patients.

To supplement their limited supplies, OMF donated PPEs to 29 medical institutions, benefiting at least 6,000 health care workers.

OMF also donated desktop computers to the Philippine Genome Center at UP Diliman, which also served as the operations center of a united effort of different volunteer groups within the University of the Philippines system to help respond to the COVID crisis.

To aid in the expanded operations of the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) molecular laboratories in Subic and Mandaluyong City, the foundation also provided desktop computers donated by Meralco to the PRC.

Meralco’s transport subsidiary eSakay and OMF teamed up with the local government unit of Pasig, Makati, and the Department of Transportation to shuttle health workers and employees of essential businesses such as groceries and pharmacies to work.

The free shuttle service involved a dozen eSakay electric vehicles and drivers and operated daily. The initiative ferried more than 76,000 passengers, a majority of whom are health workers.

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