Lawmakers oppose granting franchise to solar power company of Legarda's son

MANILA, Philippines – Two lawmakers opposed the bill seeking to grant a 25-year legislative franchise to Solar Para sa Bayan Corporation, which was founded by Senator Loren Legarda's son, Leandro Leviste. 

Nueva Ecija 3rd District Representative Rosanna Vergara and Buhay Representative Lito Atienza opposed House Bill (HB) No. 8179, which was sponsored for 2nd reading by its principal author, Deputy Speaker Arthur Yap, on Wednesday, November 14.

In his speech during the House plenary session, Yap said the Philippines is lagging behind in energy development as World Bank data showed that 2.4 million households or about 12 million Filipinos do not have access to electricity, 58% of whom are from Mindanao.  

He then argued that granting the franchise to Leviste's Solar Para sa Bayan will help address this problem. He said that 200,000 people in 12 towns in 9 provinces have benefited from the company.

"They should be welcomed. They should be celebrated because along the way, they are showing us how the private sector, without any tax breaks, without any subsidies, can power isolated, underserved communities at no cost to the government," said Yap.  

'Discordant, unfair' franchise

But Vergara, who was previously chief executive officer of the Cabanatuan Electric Corporation, does not agree. She said HB 8179 would lead to Solar Para sa Bayan monopolizing the sector.

"I believe this Solar Para sa Bayan is not the solution. I, together with a number of representatives in the 17th Congress, finds numerous provisions in this bill to be discordant, unfair, and it effectively creates a monopoly for Solar Para sa Bayan for all solar installations in our country," said Vergara. 

She then asked Yap if the measure may be returned to the committee on legislative franchises so lawmakers can further discuss their issues with the bill. 

Yap disagreed, saying the plenary deliberations will already serve that purpose. He also denied HB 8179 would cause a Solar Para sa Bayan monopoly.

"The reverse will happen. If the power is not given to this franchise, this franchise will be discriminated against. It is basically an equal protection for all these franchises if this provision is allowed to remain," said Yap.

He also said that Solar Para sa Bayan would not be allowed to enter other franchise areas, except if such areas are abandoned or if the company intends to enter an area that is underserved or unserved.

"So let us be very clear that this franchise will not give Solar Para sa Bayan the authority to just enter any franchise area. And the Department of Energy will continue to exercise control over [the] areas it will be allowed to operate under those requirements," he added.

Meeting with private sector companies

Atienza then spoke up and asked Yap to put into writing some of the suggestions from private sector companies with whom Yap met earlier on Wednesday. Yap said he supposedly agreed to some suggested amendments by these companies. 

Atienza is among 15 lawmakers who filed a resolution opposing HB 8179 and calling for its return to the legislative franchises panel for further deliberations.

Those legislators argued that several provisions under HB 8179 are unconstitutional and are contrary to the provisions of Republic Act No. 9136 or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act.  

"We, speaking on behalf of the consumers, are also being maligned, saying that we are nothing but obstructionists and we are even tormentors. Tormenting who?" asked Atienza.

"True, we need to lower the price of electricity. Dapat po talaga 'yan ang asikasuhin ng lahat. Pero ang solusyon ba ang prangkisang ito? (We really need to do that. But is this franchise the answer?)" he added.  

Yap merely repeated his response to Vergara. Plenary deliberations on HB 8179 were then suspended on Wednesday and will likely resume on Monday, November 19. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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