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ERC can now act on P1.5-T pending power deals: Gatchalian

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Tuesday welcomed the Court of Appeals' (CA) order halting the suspension of four Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) commissioners, saying the regulatory body can now decide on about PHP1.5 trillion worth of pending contracts critical to the country’s power supply.

In an ambush interview, the lawmaker said that while the CA only issued a 60-day temporary restraining order (TRO, it is still a “good temporary development.”

“Ang kagandahan dito, habang temporary ang solution, makakapagdesisyon na sila sa mga stranded contracts na nagkakahalaga ng PHP1.5 trillion. Actually, ang aking agam-agam ay parating na ang summer months so may ibang mga lugar na mage-expire na ang kanilang mga kontrata, ang iba naman ay hindi na magre-renew ang kontrata, so meron talagang banta na mawalan ng kuryente (The good thing here is while the solution is temporary, they will be able to decide on the stranded contracts worth PHP1.5 trillion. Actually, my predicament is that the summer months are approaching so there are areas that have expiring contracts. Some are not renewing their contracts so there is really an impending threat of power interruptions),” Gatchalian said.

The ERC is the electric-power industry regulator composed of four commissioners and a chairman.

On December 11, 2017, the Office of the Ombudsman slapped a one-year suspension on ERC Commissioners Alfredo Non, Gloria Victoria Yap-Taruc, Josefina Patricia Asirit and Geronimo Sta. Ana.

The ERC commissioners were suspended after they were found guilty of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, aggravated by simple misconduct and simple neglect of duty for allegedly allowing electric utilities like Manila Electric Company (Meralco) to forgo the bidding of their power supply requirements at the public’s expense.

The absence of the four commissioners left the agency incapable of making decisions critical to the energy sector.

In its resolution dated February 9, the CA’s 9th Division issued the 60-day TRO against the one-year suspension so as not to “impair public service.”

The CA decided that "grave and irreparable injury can be committed if the TRO is not issued" in favor of the Commissioners who were also the petitioners.

Gatchalian, however, said that the commissioners still have to resolve the cases against them within the 60-day period to show that they truly deserve to continue in their jobs.

“Ang pinaka solusyon dito ay ma-resolve na ang isinampa sa kanilang case para malaman na natin kung karapat-dapat ba sila na ituloy ang kanilang trabaho. (The best solution here is to resolve the cases filed against them in order for us to know if they must continue with their work.) Because in the energy sector, dapat may (there must be) certainty, dahil araw-araw ay may nage-expire na kontrata (because everyday, there are expiring contracts), may mga nagre-renew at ang problema, kung hindi maaprubahan, kung hindi maaksyunan, ay baka magkaroon ng brownout (there are those who renew their contracts and the problem is if these won't be approved or will not be acted upon, there will be brownouts),” said Gatchalian, chair of the Senate Committee on Energy.

With the TRO, Gatchalian expressed confidence that the ERC can now approve expiring power contracts in the coming weeks to avert potentialy crippling power shortages in summer.

The lawmaker said this was bolstered by the assurance made by ERC Chairperson Agnes Devanadera that the agency has continued to process pending contracts even with the absence of the four commissioners.

“Sinabi niya (ERC chair) na kahit kulang sila, pino-process na nila ang mga kontrata, ready to decide, para pagka-upo ng commissioners ay magde-decide na lang sila. (The ERC chair said that even if they are not complete, they are processing the contracts, ready to decide, so when the time the commissoners will assume their post, they will just decide on it.) So I think, right now, nasa punto na sila na magde-decide na lang sila kung ang mga kontrata ay aprubado o hindi (they are at the point where they will just decide whether to approve the contracts or not),” Gatchalian said.

Jose Cielito Reganit / PNA