13 January 2017

In the Late 90s, a Multisector Dialogue with Batelec Began with This

The dialogue with Batelec was held at the Yellow Conference Room of DLSL.  I am not sure if the image above was of  the actual dialogue because it was so long ago and I do not remember how our guests looked like.

Before anything else, this ironic story is true. There are a few at De La Salle Lipa who will remember things as I tell them. For the benefit of any millennials who may stumble upon this article, however, allow me to go as far back as the early nineties to lay down the background to this story.

When Corazon Aquino stepped down from the Presidency in 1992, she had successfully restored democracy to the republic after a decade and a half of iron rule under Ferdinand Marcos. Regrettably, Aquino also left behind a power crisis that Fidel Ramos, her successor, took time to remedy.

This power crisis was so severe that, in the early years of the Ramos presidency, power outages were rotated daily for months on end throughout the country for anything from four to twelve hours each day. I distinctly even remember one time when the outage went for an unbelievable fourteen hours.

By mid-1995, when the late Brother Rafael Donato was installed as the first resident President of DLSL, the Ramos administration had started to stabilize the power situation nationwide. In Lipa City, however, the power outages continued onto the late nineties. Not the prolonged sort scheduled by the National Power Corporation but short unscheduled outages that frustratingly could hit anytime of the day or night. These outages were also wont to happen several times each day.

DLSL being a school, one could always tell even if one was outdoors if one of those infernal outages hit. Collective groans and shrieks resounded around the campus from computer laboratories and offices where students and personnel were left dismayed by the thought of starting over with the work they failed to save.

I recall even having been asked by Brother Rafael to issue a school-wide memorandum encouraging students and personnel to use Control + S every few moments when working on a computer. The lost work apart, the frequent outages were, needless to say, detrimental not just to computers but all electrical equipment.

Because the SENTRUM, the large multipurpose gymnasium, had become operational and was being frequently rented out, it became imperative for the school to purchase a large back-up generator to ensure that games and performances were not compromised.

Brother Rafael was as fed up with the frequent outages as everyone else, but being an educator, he was more concerned with information, dialogue and finding solutions to local problems. He saw the school not just as a place for learning subject matter but, moreover, also for learning and exercising civic duty.

Thus, he asked the office for Social Concerns to arrange a dialogue between representatives of the Batangas Electric Cooperative (Batelec), which supplied electricity to the city and most of Batangas, and a multisector group from the school. This must have been either 1997 or 1998 and the meeting was held at the small conference room on the second floor of the Jose W. Diokno Building.

We were not sure if Batelec would even be interested in coming, but the general manager at the time himself gave his word that he would be present. Apart from school administrators, there were members of the faculty and student leaders present in the meeting. There might even have been invited guests from other schools present.

The dialogue was scheduled one afternoon. Batelec’s general manager at the time was accompanied by a few members of his management team and some engineers to answer technical questions. After brief introductions at the President’s Office to exchange pleasantries with Brother Rafael, the guests were ushered to the adjoining conference room, where the multisector group was already seated.

The meeting was not even two minutes old and the introductions not even finished when, of all things, the entire room went dark. A dialogue that was scheduled to discuss possible solutions to the frequent power outages in the city began… with a power outage! Brother Rafael could not have planned things better had he tried. The initial gasps around the room when the lights went dead were followed by ironic laughter.

Batelec’s general manager quickly apologized to everyone and left the room to call somebody. Brother Rafael, who could not stop laughing about the incident afterwards, loved to joke that he was probably calling his engineers to determine if the school had not intentionally turned power off to underscore the problem.

Power was restored after a few minutes and the meeting resumed. Despite the gravity of the problem being discussed, since Brother Rafael was moderating, it was for the most part polite. I remember the frequent outages being blamed on anything from sparrows to palm fronds and even the rain, but little else because it was so long ago. But one thing that I will never forget is that a meeting to discuss frequent unscheduled power outages began with one of these.

I struggle to recall any other incidents in my life when fate conspired to deliver irony as stark as that day. I actually felt sorry for our guests from Batelec who, despite the poorness of the cooperative’s service at the time, were actually very nice and likeable people.

[Footnote: Although unscheduled outages continue even in the present day, in fairness to Batelec, these are so much less frequent in the present day at least where I live. Moreover, Batelec takes great pains to inform the public either through its white van or Facebook page when there would be prolonged brownouts so people can plan ahead.]

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