A regional trial court judge in Mandaluyong City is under fire from three committees of the House of Representatives for allegedly usurping the exclusive power of the Energy Regulatory Commission over disputes involving electricity rates.
Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso frowned on the decision of RTC Branch 208 to entertain a case filed by South Premier Power Corp., an affiliate of San Miguel Corp., contesting P23.9 billion in accumulated billings sent to it by state-owned Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. for SPPC’s administration of the 1,200-megawatt Ilijan power plant in Batangas.
The case, filed in 2015, is still pending. The Mandaluyong RTC has prohibited PSALM from terminating its contract with SPPC.
Veloso, chairman of the committee on justice, said the law does not allow courts lower than the Court of Appeals to meddle in cases involving electricity rates and other power-related issues.
“RTC judges should not entertain such petitions. I will bring up this matter of intervention with the Supreme Court,” he said. His committee has oversight function over the judiciary.
He quoted Section 43 of Republic Act No. 9136, or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001, which provides that the ERC “shall have the original and exclusive jurisdiction over all cases contesting rates, fees, fines and penalties imposed by the ERC…and over all cases involving disputes between and among participants or players in the energy sector.”
Veloso, a Court of Appeals (CA) justice for 11 years, said the law also provides that ERC decisions can be appealed with the CA.
Several legislators and members of the committee on public accounts and the committee on good government and public accountability shared Veloso's view as they expressed dismay over interventions made by some regional trial courts in electricity rate cases.
The two committees have launched an inquiry into P95 billion in debts owed by power generators to the government.
“Our inquiry is principally in aid of legislation, though we at the same time want to help the executive branch to collect this huge amount of receivables,” Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor, chairman of the committee on public accounts, said on Thursday.
He said he and his joint inquiry chairman, Rep. Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado of Bulacan, believe that Section 43 of EPIRA “is clear enough on jurisdiction over disputes.”
“But if it needs further clarification for all concerned, including judges, we can recommend remedial legislation,” Defensor said.
During the hearing of the two committees on Wednesday, Veloso tangled with the lawyer of SPPC on the RTC’s decision to hear the SMC affiliate’s petition against PSALM.
The lawyer said SPPC filed its complaint with the Mandaluyong court because that is the venue specified in its contract with PSALM for any dispute arising from its Ilijan plant administration contract.
But Veloso rebuked the SMC representative, telling him, “You are a lawyer, and you very well know that the jurisdiction of any court is conferred by law, not by any private contract. In this case, the EPIRA is clear: The Mandaluyong RTC has no jurisdiction.”
In the course of their Wednesday hearing, the two committees received assurances from representatives of Meralco and three other power firms that they would soon settle P23.4 billion in financial obligations to the government.
Northern Renewables Generation Corp., one of the three firms, clarified yesterday that it has already paid its debt to PSALM under a settlement agreement approved by a Cebu City RTC.