Petilla endorses Malampaya subsidy bill
MANILA, Philippines – Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla vowed to ask President Benigno Aquino III to certify as urgent a bill expanding the use of the Malampaya fund.
Petilla made the commitment to Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, one of the proponents of the measure, during a Senate hearing into the power rate hike of Manila Electric Company (Meralco) on Thursday, January 23.
Trillanes asked Petilla’s opinion about his bill, which seeks to authorize the President to use the Malampaya fund to subsidize the P4.15 per kilowatt hour increase in the generation charge of Meralco.
The bill also aims to use the fund to repair power infrastructure damaged by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).
“That’s a very good bill,” Petilla told Trillanes.
The senator filed the bill last December after the Supreme Court limited the use of the Malampaya fund for energy development and exploitation programs. Senate Energy Committee Chairman Sergio “Serge” Osmeña III is also pushing for the measure, calling it a short-term solution to the power rate hike.
The Malampaya fund consists of royalties collected from operations of the Malampaya gas and oil fields in the waters off Palawan province.
The Senate is investigating the P4.15/kWh rate hike of Meralco, the biggest power rate hike in recent history. Meralco was set to implement the increase in 3 tranches starting December but the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO). (READ: 13 things Meralco consumers should know about the hike)
Meralco warned vs govt takeover
Trillanes grilled Meralco officials, blaming them for the rate hike. The senator suspects the company of colluding with power generators to hike prices.
“You try to free yourself of responsibility. Don’t underestimate the wrath of the people. During Martial law, it’s possible Meralco was taken over because of a similar scenario. We might reach that point again. The public might pressure politicians to nationalize distribution,” Trillanes said.
He added, “Ideally, the private sector is more efficient in operating businesses but in this case, wala ho eh (it’s not happening).”
Meralco president Oscar Reyes responded that the power distributor was “conscious of the consumers’ interest” as seen in the staggered rate hike.
Reyes insisted that the increase was due to an “aberration” of power plants going on simultaneous shutdowns. He said it should be treated as an “isolated event.”
Asked by Trillanes who was at fault, Reyes stopped short of blaming power generators.
Meralco has maintained that the scheduled shutdown of the Malampaya gas field and unscheduled shutdowns of other power plants forced it to buy expensive power from the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM).
Besides Meralco, Trillanes again turned his ire on the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) for approving the power rate hike even if the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) allowed it to impose price controls.
He also took a swipe at the state-run Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation (PSALM).
“I’m surprised the ERC is conducting an investigation on the power rate hike when in my opinion, they're biggest culprits here …. If it were up to me, I’ll kick all the members of the ERC and PSALM for not doing their job. You’re fortunate the President has that stomach to tolerate such incompetence,” Trillanes said. – Rappler.com