ERC faces work paralysis amid revamp

By Myrna M. Velasco – January 1, 2018, 10:01 PM
from Manila Bulletin

The top official of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) raised fears that if drastic revamp will be instituted at the level of the agency’s Commissioners, work and decisions will slow down if all of the replacements will be grappling with ‘precarious learning curve’ not just on the ‘alphabet soup’ of the restructured electricity sector but also the more technical and complex facets of regulation for the sector.

Agnes T. Devanadera

Agnes T. Devanadera

“If all of us are new and lacking experience and knowledge of the industry, we might end up having Commission meetings tackling industry’s definition of terms,” ERC Chairperson Agnes T. Devanadera said in jest.

Nevertheless, that apprehension of Devanadera could be eased if Malacanang will eventually decide to appoint people at the Commission who are already knowledgeable, primarily on economic regulation, and technically-adept as to the power industry’s grind and holistic operations.

While the stand of advocacy group Laban Konsyumer Inc. leans on the resignation of the suspended ERC Commissioners, Senate Committee on Energy Chairman Sherwin T. Gatchalian bats for ‘temporary appointment’ at the Commission, but must be of individuals having expertise on the job.

As of this writing, Malacanang has not officially issued decision yet as to the fate of Commissioners Alfredo J. Non, Gloria Victoria Yap-Taruc, Josefina Patricia M. Asirit and Geronimo D. Sta Ana who were all “suspended for one year without pay” by the Office of the Ombudsman.

Devanadera has sought President Rodrido Duterte’s guidance and forward direction as to the enforced suspension of the four Commissioners, noting the “debilitating impact” that the ruling of the Office of the Ombudsman may have on the entire power industry.

She previously warned of severe regulatory lag that could be inflicted on P1.588 trillion worth of power investments, whose developers are all lining up for immediate approvals or decisions of the Commission.

And the worst outcome of this industry paralysis, especially if investors could not recoup returns on invested capital, she said, would be crippling power interruptions, a pronouncement that had been considered by some advocacy groups as a form of ‘blackmail’.

The incapacitated ERC, she added, will also adversely affect the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program, because electricity is a critical backbone of the country’s economy, including those on planned infrastructure build-up and industrialization goals.

Devanadera previously apprised media that the four Commissioners still reported to the office on (December 22), helping sort out records on the Commission’s target to have ‘zero backlog’ on pending cases.

Nevertheless, she qualified that they can no longer exercise their ‘normal function’ such as having Commission meetings as well as review and approve much-needed ruling on cases so critical to sustain the power industry’s viability.