MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Commission on Appointments deferred the confirmation of former PDP-Laban vice chairman and Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi as he failed to present data on the status of the barangay electrification program.
Senator Panfilo Lacson raised the question after pointing out that Cusi's background is logistics and shipping, and not the energy sector.
"Hindi naman puwede maka-attain ng inclusive growth kung walang proper development ng electrification (We cannot attain inclusive growth if there is no proper development of electrification). About time that we give the rural areas a break. What is the status of the expanded rural electrification program?" Lacson asked Cusi during the CA committee on energy hearing on Wednesday, October 5.
Cusi said 100% of barangays are already electrified but Lacson did not buy it, saying there are sitios within barangays that still have no power to date. At this point, the secretary corrected himself.
"As far as barangay electrification is concerned, 100% na (already) but on the household, hindi pa (not yet)," Cusi told Lacson.
"There are sitios being established that is really making electrification difficult," Cusi added.
This did not sit well with Lacson, who then threatened to defer Cusi's confirmation.
"Secretary, this is a test of competence and integrity. Telling things that are not correct, I might invoke Section 20 of the CA rules," the senator said,
Section 20 allows any CA member to move to defer any action on a nomination or appointment as long as such suspension should be taken up next CA session.
Lacson also asked Cusi how much the country is losing due to the "take or pay" agreement during the administration of then President Fidel V. Ramos.
The senator said the emergency powers granted to Ramos to solve the power crisis put the country's coffers at a disadvantage.
"We keep on paying for power na 'di lang nagamit, kung hindi 'di na-deliver. I want to find out magkano nadadaya all this time," Lacson said.
(We keep on paying for power that's not used; if not, undelivered. I want to find out how much we've been cheated out of, all this time.)
A week after – Wednesday, October 12 – the CA eventually confirmed the ad interim appointment of Cusi.
Duterte allies back Cusi
During the break, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, along with other colleagues, came up to his partymate and offered possible answers that might appease Lacson.
Other senators who helped Cusi were Loren Legarda, Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Alan Peter Cayetano. Cayetano and Zubiri are known allies of Cusi's partymate, President Rodrigo Duterte, while Legarda said she has known Cusi for a long time.
Legarda suggested that Cusi answer this way: "One hundred percent sa (in) barangays. Sasabihin niya (Lacson), 'Bakit ilan sa sitios wala (Why is there no power in the sitios)?' Because ground zero. Each barangay has a ground zero connected up to there. And there are some barangays more than 50%, others more than 50%," Legarda said in a huddle.
"The data are not even present with the NEA because sitios are created every week by these barangay captains. But if you want to electrify the whole county sitio level, you need P24 billion, that's it. 'Yun ang sagot (That's the answer)," she added.
Pimentel then said Cusi should have related his answer to Lacson's advocacy of empowering local government.
"Connected kasi 'yan sa isang program niya, empowering the local government through barangay electrification, i-connect natin. Otherwise, sagot ka, may next questioning," Pimentel said.
(That's connected to one of his programs, empowering local government through barangay electrification. Let's connect it to that. Otherwise, you answer, and there's still a next round of questioning.)
Before the session was suspended, Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon, chairman of the CA energy committee, joked that Cusi's confirmation is the "most-attended" hearing.
He noted that all members of the House delegation were present while only two senators were absent. Drilon pointed out that Pimentel himself – the chairman of the whole CA – was in attendance.
"This is how energized your committee is," Drilon said in jest. – Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email email@example.com