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Philippines Probing Luzon Blackout Before Elections, Aquino Says

The Philippines is investigating the failure that left Manila and almost half of Luzon island without power yesterday, and the May 13 elections won’t be marred by blackouts, President Benigno Aquino said.

“The lines were checked and there were no short circuits found,” Aquino told reporters today in Manila.

Power was fully restored in Luzon before midnight yesterday, the Energy Department said today in an e-mailed statement. Aquino seeks to ensure power is available to deter fraud in contested local elections for all members of the House of Representatives and half of the 24-member Senate. Police have reported violent incidents involving local politicians in a country where vote-rigging has sparked rebellions, one of which brought down the regime of Ferdinand Marcos.

The Calaca coal-fired power plant in Batangas province tripped yesterday and set off a domino effect that shut down five other plants, Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla told ABS-CBN News in a televised interview today. Petilla again ruled out sabotage and said the power failure was triggered by a “technical problem.”

The six power stations, including the Sual coal plant and Ilijan natural gas plant managed by San Miguel Corp., have a combined output of 3,700 megawatts and supply about 45 percent of the peak-power requirements of Luzon, home to more than 44 million people, the Philippines National Grid Corp. said.

The blackout started yesterday at 2 p.m. and affected about 40 percent of the franchise area of Manila Electric Co., the nation’s biggest power retailer, according to spokesman Joe Zaldarriaga.

“It’s highly strange to have five power plants losing power at the same time,” said Toby Tiangco, spokesman for Aquino’s political opposition. “A brownout on election day will raise doubts, and we don’t need that now.”

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