Enabling Dialogues: The DMGENCO story from a member’s perspective

Formed in 2013, the Davao Multi-Stakeholder Group for Energy Concerns (DMGENCO) is a dialogue group with the goal of helping Therma South Inc. (TSI) live up to its commitment to cause the least adverse effect on the environment and to adopt conflict-sensitive business practices. TSI recognizes these values are essential to being able to fulfill its mission of providing unhampered electric power to Mindanao.

DMGENCO is organized and facilitated by International Alert, a global NGO active in peace advocacy and its members come from a cross-section of Davao City and Sta. Cruz municipality residents. Membership is composed of a Roman Catholic priest, an academician, a barangay councilor, two Muslim community leaders, a lumad tribal chieftain, two executives from Alert, three executives from TSI and is chaired by a former Davao City councilor. The group meets once a month.

During meetings, a resource person is usually invited to talk about environmental protection and the building and sustenance of conflict-sensitive business practices.

Members have the specific purpose of pursuing the overarching goals of the group. They understand that they only represent themselves and not the organization where they belong, to narrow the agenda to only the concerns of DMGENCO. Members cannot speak about the activities or represent the group to outside parties, including the media. This is consistent with the design for DMGENCO to function exclusively as an advisory body to TSI.

Challenges ahead

Intensified awareness driven by environmental protection advocates and the rise of social media, combined the perceived threat posed by coal emissions to health and the environment are just some of the challenges faced by TSI and DMGENCO. NGOs and media elements are also acting as watchdogs of public interest. The reality that TSI is one of the biggest privately-owned power generating companies in Mindanao adds to its high and sustained media and public interest.

These challenges did not stop DMGENCO from finding ways to help TSI. It helped convinced the Sta.Cruz local government to relocate 250 Muslim families residing in areas declared as danger zones. Â

It also has broken bread with a foremost anti-coal leader of Mindanao by inviting her to a dialogue on her concerns regarding the potential negative effects of the coal power plant in Davao. They also discussed what mitigating measures should be considered to address these concerns.

Through monthly meetings with expert resource people invited by Alert, members find a better understanding of coal plant operations which unveils opportunities to improve TSI’s relationship with various stakeholders.

Living to its values

The DMGENCO story has surfaced a simple truth: A citizen’s group whose members are not constrained by their organizational or professional affiliation, has led them to assert and assume roles that could be viewed as “agents of authenticity” (Sachs). They may not be loyal to the TSI organization but they share and they have become fiercely loyal to its values. They want nothing more than to see and help enable TSI to live the truth of its declared values.

Another important lesson is that TSI must be willing to be transparent and to pursue reactive and proactive opportunities to bring its values to life. It must be willing to open its practices to examination by the dialogue group so that instances of mismatches between its actions and declared values can be removed. TSI must also be willing to use the dialogue group as a sounding board to test the validity and likely success of its proposed actions.

The simple truth and lessons that we have learned from our DMGENCO experience are instructive. They are necessary conditions that greatly enable a dialogue group to help a company to become an upright corporate citizen and to live the truth of its declared values. Ultimately, they enable a dialogue group to make a meaningful contribution to the company’s quest to fulfill its mission to its customers and to society. — by Bobby Orig, First Vice President Mindanao Affairs, AboitizPower