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Rough Cuts | A museum out of the Bajada Power Plant?

Last week we had the opportunity to be in Bajada, specifically at the vicinity of the old power plant of Davao Light and Power Co.
We could not help but be in some kind of a nostalgic stupor when we saw the buildings of the plant in a compound along J.P. Laurel National Highway. For who would not when we had been a frequent visitor to the place when we worked with the Aboitiz-owned power distribution company for 20 years.

We know that when the power generation industry was taken over by the government in the early seventies the power plant in Bajada already became just a “stand-by” facility to be run only to compensate for whatever power requirement of Davao City that could not be supplied by the government’s National Power Corp. (Napocor) hydro-electric plants in Lanao del Sur and in Bukidnon.

The Bajada Power plant had seen through and ably responded to many serious power crises that happened during a span of four decades that the generation of electricity was centralized by the government.

It had been run in its full capacity of over 50 megawatt during the long dry spells of 1981 and the El Nino years in the 90s.

Before those decades however, the Bajada Power Plant was a steadfast partner of Davao City’s march to progress. The first of its 14 generating engines was inherited by Davao Light when it took over the power generation and distribution in the city from the former franchise holder, the American-owned company, P.A. Franks, Inc. in 1947.

From then on the plant saw through the city’s economy evolved into various stages. It supplied electricity as Davao struggled on its feet from war destruction to slowly become a commercial center. The next two decades saw logging and wood processing industry became the core of the economy in Davao City and in nearby Panabo, Carmen and Sto. Tomas in Davao del Norte. The latter three towns became part of Davao Light’s franchise area. The Bajada Power Plant was not just simply the source of electricity. It was a partner in the areas’ development strides.

So, when government took over power generation responsibility all over the country, many businessmen with lesser degree of foresight could have immediately mothballed the plant. But the management of Davao Light might have seen it through the glass of uncertainty that there might be need to maintain the plant for possible glitches in the government’s power production units. And indeed there were several such instances of power shortages brought about either by nature’s wrath, or man’s errors in decision-making that in the process affected the government plants’ generating capacity.

Thus, in all those years of power generation centralization there were electricity shortages that rendered some provinces and cities in Mindanao without power as long as 8 to12 hours daily. Luckily for Davao City and the rest of the Davao Light franchise area, they the stand-by Bajada Power Plant that compensates a substantial portion of the shortage in the franchise’s allocation during the energy crisis in Mindanao. Hence, the longest that any single area in the franchise that experienced a rotating service interruption was three hours the most.
But as the saying goes, the only constant in the world is change. The government eventually revised its policies in power generation. During the administration of then President Fidel V. Ramos privatization was resorted to. What followed was a “tsunami” of applications to the government to buy and/or rehabilitate and run Napocor generating assets. And there were also applications to build new power generation facilities. Hence, today next to Luzon, Mindanao’s power production has the second highest operating margin between 500 to 1000 megawatt on certain days of any given month.

As we left Bajada during that short sojourn in the area last week, we could feel the eerie silence of the plant engines even ouder than the noise of vehicles trapped in traffic in that Bajada area. Then we were brought by our feet to some friends still working with the electric utility. Our intention was to seek answers to questions in our mind what the company is planning to do with the generating assets now that seemingly, the power reserves in Mindanao do not anymore need for stand-by capacities.

And the talks we earlier heard that it is going to be mothballed were confirmed. In fact we were told that the dismantling of the engines has already begun and the components, one of which is the switch board, are segregated accordingly.

We did not have the will to ask the question how much of the engine parts and other plant assets are headed to the giant weighing scales of junk yards or metal re-melting plants. But the idea of dismantling the plant is, to us, kind of doing away a huge part of the history of Davao City’s march to progress, specifically to the level that it is now.

Of course it is good business sense to dispose of assets that are not anymore in service like the Bajada power plant. The area where it stands is in prime location and could command a humongous price. Or, it can also be used by the company for construction of offices and other buildings needed for its operation.

After knowing the intention of management to do away with the plant the idea of the owners setting aside a space in the plant area where some of the 14 engines, its parts, and operating accessories can be relocated and kept, suddenly dawned in our mind. This can be converted into a mini museum where students, history buffs, ordinary people and even investors eyeing for power projects can visit and have their retrospective views of the evolution of the power generation and distribution business.

Students and other later generations Davaoenos can also have the opportunity to travel back in time of the Davao they were just simply told about.

Yes, we are reminded of our own visit at the Smithsonian Institution where its museum includes several preserved trains that crisscrossed the United States in the 1800s. War equipment like fighter and bomber planes used during the first and second World Wars displayed for posterity. And there rest the astronauts’ capsules used in their flights to outer space and eventually to the moon. All these are vivid material narrations of the development of the US as a country and an economic and military power.

And we need not go far. Somewhere in Calinan is the Philippine-Japan Historical Museum that gives every visitor instant picture of what Davao was as a community between 1903 and 1941.

How is that idea Gentlemen of Aboitiz Power, Inc.? For certain a museum can perpetuate the memory of the Bajada Power Plant and its role in the city’s progress much longer than any single part of its engines converted into other form of steel. And it will also put in place to eternity the Aboitiz name in the annals of Davao City’s history.

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