Lacson, Drilon question bill granting franchise to Legarda son's solar firm
MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday, May 22, questioned the bill seeking to grant a 25-year franchise to Solar Para sa Bayan (SPSB), owned by Senator Loren Legarda's son, Leandro Leviste.
During the interpellation on the measure, Lacson said there is "no need" to grant SPSB a congressional franchise since it is involved in power generation.
Under the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (EPIRA) – considered the bible of the industry – only two sectors, transmission and distribution, require a congressional franchise. Solar firms usually do not need to get a franchise to install panels for businesses and houses.
In response, Senate public services committee chairperson Grace Poe said the EPIRA law did not foresee the entry of new technology when it was passed decades ago.
"This is the official answer. While it is true generation does not require a national franchise, micro-grid does not only involve transmission.... When EPIRA was enacted in 2001, they could not have envisioned the micro-grid technology," Poe said.
Lacson also said SPSB's franchise might violate the ban on anti-competitive behavior under the law. EPIRA prohibits cross-ownership in other power sectors.
SPSB seeks to secure a "super franchise" to go into all 4 power sectors: generation, transmission, distribution, and supply through the use of mini- and micro-grids to electrify unserved and underserved areas in the country.
"'Di nga lang related, iisang tao po ito (This is not just a related business. This is only one person).... It is even worse," Lacson said.
For his part, Drilon questioned the possibility that the firm's franchise might extend even outside the areas indicated in the bill.
Under the Senate version of the bill, SPSB can operate in "remote and unviable, unserved, or underserved" areas in barangays, municipalities, and cities of Aurora, Batangas, Bohol, Cagayan, Camiguin, Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental, Isabela, Masbate, Misamis Occidental, Occidental Mindoro, Palawan, and Tawi-Tawi.
But the Department of Energy (DOE) is authorized to expand the areas covered.
"Suddenly we will have anyone and...operating anywhere, everywhere, as long as there is [an] unviable, unserved, underserved area even if it's not in the enumerated cities," Drilon said.
"I was prepared to vote favorably, but if we open to the entire country.... We will have franchise orders who would complain. You would come up with cases in court."
Franchise delegated to DOE?
Both Lacson and Drilon also questioned the authority given to the DOE, saying Congress is seemingly delegating the task of granting a franchise to the agency.
Under the bill, the DOE will still conduct a competitive selection process before SPSB can enter areas – something that Lacson said he "could not reconcile."
"We are concerned the power to grant franchises is being delegated to the DOE, and therefore the ability is given to the DOE rather than Congress retaining that. Second point, I cannot imagine the confusion on the ground, where on the allegation the area is underserved...that DOE will allow another franchisee to come in," he said.
The House of Representatives swiftly approved SPSB's franchise application after only 4 months. Under the rules, a franchise bill must first be passed in the House before it is transmitted to the Senate.
As of posting, the bill is in the period of amendments.
It remains unclear if the Senate will pass the measure before the adjournment of the 17th Congress on June 8. – Rappler.com