People's Domain

[Opinion] The Conflicting Assertions of Sen. Drilon

The consumers of electricity in Iloilo City must feel ecstatic by the attention being given by Ilonggo Sen. Franklin Drilon concerning consumer welfare especially on the petition of the National Grid Corp. (NGCP) to acquire the sub-transmission assets of Panay Energy Development Corp. (PEDC) amounting to a total of P600-million and which will result to a transmission charge of 1.00 per kilowatt-hour.

I cannot help but notice the conflicting opinion being asserted by Sen. Drilon as he attacked the issue for being inconsistent with the provisions of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA). Sen. Drilon also highlighted that the NGCP application goes against the spirit and real intent of the EPIRA for the law was envisioned to improve and make efficient the operations of the power industry.

Hence, for Sen. Drilon, the petition is disadvantageous to consumers and nothing more but an exercise of corporate greed.

These are strong words and having it coming from Sen. Drilon for the first time; I can say that this sort of pronouncement can be considered “revolutionary”. But let us examine, however, the inconsistencies behind Sen. Drilon’s assertions given the context of his stand against power rates increase and emphasizing violations to EPIRA.

The EPIRA law has more than 10 objectives and what Drilon has declared as to “make the power industry more efficient” is only one among its many objectives. There are scores more which Sen. Drilon has chosen to omit. There are important provisions in the EPIRA which serves to the best advantage of the consumers yet Sen. Drilon choose not to assert it.

One of the objectives of the EPIRA is “to ensure the quality, reliability, security and affordability of the supply of electric power.”

The good senator might have failed to notice that the electricity rate being charged by Panay Electric Co. (PECO) in Iloilo City has breached the affordability levels for a long time. The monthly income of minimum wage earners in Iloilo City all goes to paying monthly electricity bill. In fact, the Iloilo City Government allocates an impressive amount of money from its revenues to pay monthly electricity. This is an issue which requires deeper scrutiny from Sen. Drilon for these are clear illustrations of how EPIRA, a legislation which he supported, has failed the people.

The electricity rates has tripled since the passage of EPIRA in 2001 and this has been a cause of injustice to the Ilonggos and to the Filipino people.

ELECTRICITY AFFORDABILITY

Sen. Drilon also equally failed to read an order issued by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) which directed PECO to return the amount of P631-million as overcharges illegally collected by PECO for many years. Although the refund in ongoing, it did not merit Sen. Drilon’s attention in spite of the blatant violation that PECO committed against consumer’s rights and welfare. The PECO overcharge is one of the main factors which explain why consumers pay exorbitant electricity. It also points out that consumers where charged of electricity they did not consume in the first place.

The injustice being committed by PECO against the consumers continues yet Sen. Drilon is mum.

The city is now the only urban center in the Philippines considered with the highest electricity charges. If Sen. Drilon prefers not to believe it, he can direct his able staff in the senate to gather data on electricity rates. What were Drilon’s interventions on the multiple rates increases implemented by PECO in the last 10-years? None.

For instance, the ERC recently approved the compliance of PECO to the performance based regulation methodology. The new methodology is part of the reforms under the EPIRA and which had impact to consumers in the form of increased distribution charge by PECO and other distribution utilities. The PBR alone is implemented nationwide by the ERC. How come Sen. Drilon did not act on it? Just like the NGCP application, the PBR compliance of PECO is disadvantageous to consumers. How come? It is consumers’ money in the form of distribution charge which PECO will collect in order for them to improve its quality of service.

Can’t we consider this issue as an exercise of corporate greed? If not, then what are we going to call a distribution utility that will charge to consumers the amount which they will use for capital outlay in order to improve its assets like constructing a new building, buy vehicles and facilities and equipment? What happens now to PECO’s windfall profits reported annually when its income is not being plowed back to improving its facilities but only goes to the pocket of its owners?

SELECTIVE OPPOSITION  

Although the application of NGCP to acquire the sub-transmission assets of PEDC is considered by Sen. Drilon as violative of EPIRA, closer scrutiny of the intent of the EPIRA will reveal that the law mandates the privatization of the country’s power industry and part of its directive was to segregate the sectors into three, namely: generation, transmission, and distribution.

This is the foundation of NGCP’s petition to acquire the sub-transmission assets of PEDC. According to NGCP, this is consistent to EPIRA and no less than the EPIRA have stated that PEDC being a generating company could not own a transmission facility for it will be uncompetitive and goes against law. Sen. Drilon, however, interprets the sub-transmission assets as point-to-point facilities which are used by PEDC to transmit electricity generated from its plant to the distribution company PECO.

Whether Sen. Drilon is right and NGCP is wrong, I still find Drilon’s move selective. Why selective? Because if Drilon is genuinely concerned of the adverse impact to consumers of NGCP’s acquisition of transmission assets, then Sen. Drilon could have intervened on a more broader scale knowing fully well that NGCP is not only acquiring transmission assets in Iloilo City but nationwide.

As a senator of this country, Sen. Drilon is expected to intervene on these issues, not only in Iloilo City, but on a nationwide. He is also expected to intervene, not only in terms of filing opposition at the ERC on rates increase petition, but by initiating a move to correct faulty legislations like EPIRA. Without that, what is the use of having Sen. Drilon as a legislator?*  (September 2012)

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