P1,000 ERC budget means no electricity by 2018, says Gatchalian

MANILA, Philippines – Senate energy committee chairman Sherwin Gatchalian opposed the House of Representatives’ grant of a measly P1,000 budget for the Energy Regulatory Commission for 2018.

Gatchalian said with the meager allocation for the regulatory body, the whole Philippines would suffer. He also said the House decision was too “drastic.”

“Dapat pag-isipang mabuti ito dahil ang ERC isa sa pinakamahalagang responsibilidad nya ay mag-apruba ng kontrata sa mga bagong supplier ng kuryente so kung walang mag-apruba ng bagong suplay ng kuryente, wala tayong kuryente,” Gatchalian told reporters on Thursday, September 14.

(This should be thought of carefully because the ERC's main responsibility is to approve contracts of new power suppliers. So if there are no new contracts approved, we won't have electricity.)

“Ang direktang epekto nito sa consumers ay wala tayong kuryente by next year. Wala tayong papasok na bagong suplay ng kuryente. Magkakaproblema tayo,” he said, pointing out the lack of power supply and the increasing population. (The direct of this on consumers is we won't have power by next year. We won't have new energy supply. We will have a problem.)

The ERC has been in hot water over allegations of corruption and abuse of power.

Malacañang earlier asked 4 ERC commissioners to explain their “extravagant trips” at the expense of private entities they regulate. Early August 2017, the Palace suspended ERC Chairman Jose Vicente Salazar for “insubordination.”

The senator said the House was already investigating the issues. Since there are no findings yet, Gatchalian said the ERC should be allowed to operate due to its crucial role.

“There's a pending investigation in the House regarding itong mga (these) accusations and alam ko wala pang conclusion sa investigation (and I think there is no conclusion of the investigation yet). So habang wala pang conclusion dapat tuloy ang operation ng ERC dahil (So while there is still no conclusion, the ERC operation should continue because) it's an important regulator in the energy sector," Gatchalian said.

The senator said he would push to restore the full budget of the ERC for 2018, amounting to P365 million.

“I think the general sentiment is magkaroon ng regulator at para hindi tayo magkaroon ng problema sa ating kuryente at kung may korapsyon na nangyayari kasama ako ng House na kasuhan at tanggalin ang mga corrupt officials,” he said. (I think the general sentiment is to have a regulator so we won't have energy problems. And if there's corruption, I am with the House in filing cases and removing corrupt officials.)

“I think it's too drastic, masyadong drastic ung remedy dahil lets also remember na hindi lang ERC ang nape-penalize kundi tayong lahat na gumagamit ng kuryente dahil nakasalalay tayo sa ERC pagdating sa kuryente,” he added.

Aside from the ERC, the House also gave two other agencies, Commission on Human Rights and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, an allocation of P1,000 for next year.

Senators have vowed to fight for the CHR's budget, saying a measly allocation is like abolishing the constitutional body. 

After both chambers of Congress passed their versions of the national budget, they would convene a bicameral conference committee to reconcile differences in their measures. 

The President would then sign the final version of the national budget. He also has the power to veto line items in the General Appropriations Act. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

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 camille.elemia@rappler.com