Palace asked to step into ERC mess

By Myrna M. Velasco – April 20, 2017, 10:01 PM

from Manila Bulletin

Laoag City – With the  ‘internal conflict” at the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) hitting severe proportions, Malacañang is already being asked to “step in” to finally resolve the mess that has inadvertently been befalling the entire power industry and the Filipino consumers.

In an interview with the media here, Senate committee on energy Chairman Sherwin T. Gatchalian noted that since pieces of evidence are now available that could be set as reference and guidance for decision, President Rodridgo Duterte through the Office of the Executive Secretary, may already exercise authority just to restore stability and prudence in a regulatory agency so critical to the viability of billion-dollars worth of investments for such a vital commodity underpinning the country’s economy.

“Malacañang, being the appointing authority, will have the mandate to pursue this issue,” Gatchalian said, emphasizing that with the issue already getting perilous for the entire industry and the Filipino public, it has reached that level wherein the President would already need to dip his hands into the matter.

President Duterte previously sought the resignation of the ERC Chairman and all Commissioners on allegations of corruption – an unintended aftermath of the suicide of one of its officials, Director Francisco Villa. But that call from the President was unheeded due to legal cover that the ERC officials had been able to lean on their fixed term under the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) and the lack of outcome of the investigations on the suicide incident.

But for now, Gatchalian indicated that “with the facts behind them because of the conclusion of the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) investigation, there’s already a case,” – that was compared to not having the facts yet when the initial salvo of controversy exploded.

The lawmaker stressed “the appointing authority now has to start moving and we will also echo that because our interest is really for the stability of the industry. And whatever the facts are, that will be the basis for whatever the decision of Malacanang will be.”

He added “the case has already been filed, and I think the head of the office — which in this case is Malacanang as the appointing office — should already exert effort and look into this closely.”

From what it appears, the Senate energy committee chair noted that the skirmish already shifted into “fault-finding which is not correct because it destabilizes the entire industry.”’

He said “their (ERC) mission is to protect all of us, to ensure that rates and prices for consumers are reasonable. What I fear is, their ‘personal bickerings’ could spill over to the discussions at the Commission, so instead of building consensus, they would just keep countering each other just for the sake of counteracting each other.”

Gatchalian emphasized “the Commission is one of the most important pillars of the industry. If you destabilize one pillar, the entire sector will be affected.”

He cited that if one would glean at the pace of decisions on rate petitions at the ERC, most of these are provisional approvals – and processes at the Commission are being side tracked because of the lingering internal and leadership dispute.

“Industry investments are set for the long-term. If you want long term investors to invest, we have to see to it that the regulator is on solid ground and make sure that things are moving fast,” he said.

He cited that investors cannot just fork out billions worth of investments if they are just given provisional approval on contracts,” asserting further that “if you don’t have certainty, no bank would lend money for project financing.”