Solons blame PNoy for rising power cost

Lawmakers denounce his failure to act, lack of political will

ADMINISTRATION ally Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and opposition lawmakers on Sunday blamed President Benigno Aquino III, the Energy Department and the Energy Regulatory Commission for the growing power mess that threatens to punish consumers with the highest electricity rates in history.

Reading high. A Meralco man reads the meters on an
electric post in Tondo, Manila, from the raised shovel
of a company truck. Lino Santos
Trillanes challenged the President to apply political pressure on Meralco and others responsible for the problems besetting the power industry.

He added that Aquino had many options, but his government’s failure to act has driven electricity rates soaring.

A Senate investigation, Trillanes said, would determine if Filipinos can still hope that the government can address the high power rates, and if the Energy Department has any plans to lower the cost of electricity in the long run.

“Do we no longer have hope for this in the next three years under President Aquino?” he asked.

Trillanes had earlier pressed the Aquino government to subsidize the increase in the cost of electricity to make up for its failures, instead of burdening the consuming public.

“You take charge since this was your fault,” Trillanes said.

The senator had urged the President to use the Malampaya Fund to cushion the impact of the rate increases, a proposal the Energy Department said looked unlikely because of legal constraints.

But the President’s cousin, Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, echoed Meralco’s line, warning that power outages could lead to huge business losses and posed a big threat to the economy.

“This is the same thing that happened in Mindanao, where many companies had to close shop and many workers lost their jobs because of the widespread power shortages,” the senator said.

Opposition Senator JV Ejercito, on the other hand, urged the Senate to review the Electric Power Industry Reform Act or Epira, given the law’s failure to protect consumers from sudden increases in the cost of electricity.

Twelve years after the law came into effect, he added, the government has failed to dismantle the cartel in the power industry and provide inexpensive electricity.

Senator Vicente Sotto III, also of the Senate minority bloc, called for a repeal of the law, and said Meralco’s warning about blackouts was a way of pressuring the Supreme Court to lift its temporary restraining order against the new rates that Meralco wants to impose.

Senators Sergio Osmena III and Grace Poe also saw the warnings as a threat.

In the House, opposition congressmen blamed the Palace for the power mess.

Reps. Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna, Luz Ilagan of Gabriela and Abakada party-list, in separate interviews, said that “corporate greed” has always been the name of the game of independent power producers (IPPs) at the expense of consumers.

“The lack of political will of the Aquino administration to reign in the greed of power industry cartel is as much to be blamed at present,” Zarate said. “These players who are mostly election financiers and allies of the administration are more emboldened now because they knew Malacanang will not lift a finger to stop their greed,” Zarate added.

Zarate said that it is inherent in the IPPs “this voracious greed to devour more and more profits at the expense of the consumers.”

Zarate quoted Pope Francis in describing the “tyranny of unfettered capitalism” and the “idolatry of money.”

Ilagan also said an “insatiable corporate greed” has always prevailed among the IPPs.

“There is no modicum of social corporate responsibility at all,” Ilagan said.

“When these economic vultures decide to join forces – like when they conspired to feed on the dependence of consumers on their monolithic business, expect to multiply this corporate business hunger for more profits,” Ilagan said.

Dela Cruz said that the IPPs’ claim of sudden changes in the repair schedules of their power plants, were all deliberate to force electricity prices to go up to two to three times their price in the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market.

“The provision of affordable, accessible and uninterrupted power is a basic service which government cannot simply outsource to the private sector,” Dela Cruz said.

On Sunday, the Energy Department asked power producers to temporarily set aside profits to ensure a continuous supply of power.

“If possible, I want the generators not to look at margins and focus instead on fuel cost,” Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla said.

Petilla said that other generators have expressed willingness to make the sacrifice and are open to recovering only their fuel cost while the Supreme Court has not lifted the temporary restraining order on Meralco’s rate hike.

Petilla said it was unlikely that the power generating companies would suddenly stop providing power to Meralco.

“The truth is, it’s not as easy as that. They need each other on a long-term basis,” he said.

Petilla also acknowledged that while there are demand letters to Meralco, it doesn’t mean that the power producers will stop supplying the power distributor.

Meralco’s power supplier have sent demand letters asking for payment of the unpaid electricity costs.

Meralco received demands letters from AES Masinloc for P436.65 million, San Miguel Energy Corp. for P8.08 million, and South Premiere Power Corp. for P856.80 million.

Transmission operator National Grid Corporation of the Philippines has also demanded payment from Meralco of P111.38 million.

“We’re not talking about lack of supply here. It’s about commercial issues between Meralco and power producers… I think the gencos are also responsible players in the industry,” he said.

Petilla said the department will focus on the diesel plants that supplied power during the Malampaya shutdown and who are most affected by the Supreme Court order. The diesel plants were used to replace the capacity lost during the Malampaya maintenance shutdown and the shutdown of other coal plants.

“We’re now going to get in touch with them to find out what is their inventory position. We’re also looking at various ways of actually giving them the fuel, if we can, just in case the issues between Meralco and gencos are not resolved,” he said.

Petilla also admitted that the P8 per kilowatt-hour rate hike for December and January would be hard to bear if the Supreme Court lifts the TRO. With Maricel V. Cruz and Alena Mae Flores

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