House of Representatives

Cayetano to gov’t agencies in power sector: ‘Be more progressive in interpreting the law’

Mara Cepeda
Cayetano to gov’t agencies in power sector: ‘Be more progressive in interpreting the law’

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano speaks during the House probe into Meralco's electricity bills on July 15, 2020. Screenshot from the House of Representatives' Facebook page

'So I’d like to advise all our government agencies... ‘wag niyong sabihin na legal, tama. Pag-aralan 'nyo nang mabuti at sabihin 'nyo kung may mali,' says Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano told government agencies overseeing the power industry to “be more progressive” and interpret the country’s laws “in favor of the public.”

This was the Speaker’s message on Wednesday, July 15, as the House committee on good government and public accountability returned its attention to the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) and the sudden spike of electricity bills during the coronavirus pandemic. (READ: LIVE: House hearing on the spike in electricity bills)

The House probe into Meralco was temporarily stopped to give way to the joint hearings on the franchise bid of media network ABS-CBN, which the committee on legislative franchises overwhelmingly rejected on July 10.

“So I’d like to ask ERC (Energy Regulatory Commission) and I’d like to ask the other agencies here: sundan ‘nyo ang ating Pangulo, ang ating commander-in-chief natin, ang ating chief executive (follow our President, our commander-in-chief, our chief executive). Be more progressive in interpreting the law… We have to interpret this in favor of the public,” the Speaker said.

He then cited the case of ABS-CBN, whose franchise application was junked by lawmakers even if various government agencies cleared the network of alleged violations of the Constitution as well as tax and labor laws. 

Cayetano argued that just because a company’s operations are considered legal, “that doesn’t mean you’re not abusing the system.”

“Alam ‘nyo, kung ang ABS-CBN was purely a private company and using private resources, walang problema eh. Pero ‘yong airwaves is owned by government. So in the same manner, itong kuryente, may public interest ‘to. Public utility din ‘to,” the Speaker said. 

(You know, if ABS-CBN was purely a private company using private resources, there would not have been a problem. But the airwaves is owned by the government. So in the same manner, there is public interest in electricity. This is a public utility, too.)

“So I’d like to advise all our government agencies, pati ang BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue), ‘di ba, ‘wag niyong sabihin na legal, tama. Pag-aralan ‘nyo nang mabuti at sabihin ‘nyo kung may mali,” added the Taguig City-Pateros congressman. 

(So I’d like to advise all our government agenciees, even BIR, not to say that just because it’s legal, it’s right. Study it well and say when there’s a violation.)

The House had kicked off its investigation into Meralco’s billing process after consumers and advocates complained about the sudden jump in their bills for the month of May. 

The ERC then ordered power distribution companies to give customers new bills that reflect actual consumption instead of basing it on average consumption, which Meralco later complied with.

Probe into Lopezes too?

The House hearings on Meralco are expected to go beyond the issue on electricity bills and will now likely look deeper into the power distributor’s contract with one of its energy sources, First Gen Corporation.

Deputy Speaker Dan Fernandez already asked Meralco during the hearing to provide the committee a copy of its contract with First Gen Corporation, which is owned by the Lopezes – the same family who runs ABS-CBN.

Fernandez also questioned how Meralco calculated power rates and how much the company charged consumers during the pandemic.

The Lopez clan is now the subject of the anti-oligarchy narrative of both President Rodrigo Duterte and his loyal ally Cayetano in the wake of the closure of ABS-CBN. (READ: Cayetano on ABS-CBN: ‘Reclaiming patrimony from oligarchs’)

On Wednesday, the Speaker launched fresh tirades against oligarchs, saying they have long enjoyed the power to dictate on government appointments.

“So ‘wag ‘nyong sasabihin na walang oligarchy sa ating bansa. Kasi sa tagal ko sa gobyerno – 28 years na ko sa gobyerno – alam ko kung sino binabayaran, sino hindi. Alam ko kung ano ang maanomalyang kontrata’t hindi. Alam ko kung sino nag-a-appoint kung kani-kanino,” said Cayetano.

(So don’t tell me there are no oligarchies in our country. Because in the long time I’ve spent in government – I’ve been in government for 28 years – I know who gets paid and who doesn’t. I know which are the anomalous contracts and which aren’t. I know who are the people appointing just about anyone.)

The Speaker said he hopes this practice will stop during the Duterte administration.

Cayetano failed to mention, however, that while the President wants to go after oligarchs, Duterte also admitted he will not hesitate to make his “helpful friends” richer– Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.