DOJ needs more time to probe power firms

MANILA, Philippines – Missing its January deadline, the Department of Justice (DOJ) will be needing more time to investigate possible violations by power firms that may have led to the temporarily halted price hike of the Manila Electric Co (Meralco).

Justice Secretary Leila De Lima said on Thursday, January 30, that the DOJ Office for Competition has yet to file a report outlining recommendations to the legislative and executive branches of government based on the possible cases of market abuse by generation and power companies Meralco contracted with. 

The probe – which is looking into possible collusion and violation of anti-trust laws – was ordered on the department's own initiative. (READ: Market abuse? DOJ sets probe amid Meralco price hike)

"Yung unang deadline nila was this month, January. As of this very moment, wala pa kong natatanggap... In fact, I’m expecting actually an extension. The fact na wala pa akong natatanggap ngayon as of this very moment na resulta nung inquiry ay sa tingin ko na kailangan nila ng extension," she explained.

(Their first deadline was this month, January. As of this very moment, I have not yet received anything... In fact, I'm expecting actually an extension. [Based on] the fact that I haven't received any results on the inquiry as of this very moment, I think they will be needing an extension.)

Based on the pending recommendations of the Office for Competition, a case may be filed against power companies who were involved in "unfair business practices."  A review of existing energy laws or a passage of a new one may also be recommended.

"Ang issues kasi diyan are complex, highly technical din yung ibang aspeto ng usapin na yan kaya understandable na time consuming," de Lima added.

(The issues there are complex, Other aspects are highly technical, so it is understandable that it will take time.)

Gathering as much information

De Lima said the Office for Competition is gathering as much information and data from various sources to verify the time sequence of outages by the power plants. 

"Ang nililinis nila ngayon are the facts, kasi I think importante ang facts diyan di ba lalo na yung mga about shutdowns. Kailan yung mga shutdowns, yung mga notices on shutdowns? And then what were the measures that were undertaken by Meralco?" she asked.

(They are looking into the facts, because the facts are important especially those about the shutdowns. When did the shutdowns happen? Were there notices? What measures were undertaken by Meralco?)

Following the Meralco price hike, various quarters have noted the simultaneous shutdown of power plants owned by different corporations.

In a December petition-letter filed by activists and lawmakers before the DOJ appealing for the probe, petitioners said the simultaneous outages of power plants may have caused the Meralco rate increase to be 3 times higher than expected.

Meralco increased its rate as it was forced to source its power requirements from the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market which was subject to volatile prices. This was due the scheduled maintenance shutdown of its main power source, the Malampaya gas field.

Meralco then had to contend again with the simultaneous outages of the power plants it had existing power supply agreements with. The outages of the plants coincided with that of Malampaya.

De Lima said the Office for Competition is currently accessing data from other government agencies also conducting hearings and investigation on the matter, including the Senate, the Department of Energy, and the Supreme Court. –