Belmonte pins blame over power rate hike on Meralco, power plants; Ducut faces ouster complaint

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The blame over the P4.15 per kilowatt hour Manila Electric Company (Meralco) rate hike is on Meralco and the power plants which went on maintenance shutdown coinciding with the Malampaya natural gas plant outage, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. of Quezon City said Thursday.

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Belmonte made the stance a day after Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla told the House Committee on Energy that the year 2013 had enough power supply but Meralco sought for a P4.15 per kilowatt hour power rate—eclipsing its P2.00 per kilowatt hour rate increase in 2010 when there was power shortage.

When Meralco sought the approval of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) for the P4.15 per kilowatt hour power rate hike last year, it cited that the Malampaya shutdown that coincided with the simultaneous scheduled, extended and unplanned outages in other power plants have forced Meralco to buy costlier power from diesel powered sources and the West Electricity Spot Market.

“Why do these power plants have to schedule their maintenance all at the same time and coinciding with the Malampaya when it they could have done it on a staggered basis? As for Meralco, there were scheduled outages. They could have devised a plan to address the situation in advance. But they didn’t do it. Why is the lack of concern?,” Belmonte said in a press conference.

“Where is their [Meralco] foresight? They could have alleviated the situation, ask the power plants to take turns in scheduling outage. But Meralco announced their rate hike even before they ask the approval of the ERC as if the approval of the ERC is a long foregone conclusion,” Belmonte, a lawyer, stressed.

Rep. Elpidio Barzaga of Dasmariñas City, for his part, argued that Meralco’s actions prove that it does not deserve to be granted the permission to impose the P4.15 per kilowatt power rate hike which is the highest in Philippine history.

“Meralco has not shown the specific data representing the alleged increase in its generation cost on account of the shutdown of the Malampaya plant and other power plants to the House and the Senate which have been conducting inquiries on this,” Barzaga argued in a separate text message.

“In the spirit of transparency and accountability, Meralco should present documents that states the actual increase in its generation cost specifying the kilowatts purchased, the amount and the power producing plants in order to justify the amount of P22 billion which it seeks to recover form its 3.5 million customers,” Barzaga added.

Rep. Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna party-list agreed with Barzaga, underscoring that Petilla’s disclosure only proves that there was collusion among the power plants.

“The fact that the Department of Energy admitted that there was enough supply means that the price of electricity drastically and substantially went up not because there was an increase in the generation costs or lack of supply. It was because energy players colluded or manipulated the price to go up,” Colmenares said in a separate talk.

Oust Ducut

As this developed, Reps. Walden Bello and Ibarra Gutierrez of Akbayan party-list filed an administrative complaint seeking the ouster of ERC Chairperson Zenaida Ducut before the Office of the President.

The Akbayan lawmakers cited that Ducut can be fired by President Benigno Aquino 3rd for her failure to conduct a public hearing on the Meralco rate hike because of an existing jurisprudence that puts appointed officials with fixed terms like Ducut under Presidential authority, provided that there is no law that states that they don’t.

Ducut, a former Pampanga lawmaker and was one of the legislators who allegedly pocketed kickbacks from the P10 billion Priority Development Assistance Fund scam, was appointed to her post by former President Gloria Arroyo.

“Ducut is guilty of gross neglect of duty and incompetence by tacitly approving—without the barest hint of due process—Meralco’s unprecedented power rate hike. Her failure is stupefying, considering that the increase in Meralco’s generation charge for the month of November 2013 was the largest under the regulatory era administered by the ERC,” Bello said in a separate statement.

Under Section 46 of the Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Services, gross neglect of duty is punishable by dismissal from the service. During the House Energy panel probe, Ducut acknowledged that she can be fired by the President, provided that there is a just cause.

“The fact that she acknowledged that she can be fired during the House Energy panel hearing just shows that out complaint [before the Office of the President]has a legal basis,” Bello added in a separate phone interview.

Further, Bello invoked that under Ducut’s watch, ERC failed not only on the basic procedural requirements but also committed gross neglect of duty when the ERC approved Meralco’s Power Supply Agreements (PSAs) with the generation companies supplying it with electricity even though the said PSAs did not provide for replacement power in the event of scheduled or forced outages of the generation companies’ power plants.

“This is a clear evidence of negligence that violates one of the fundamental policies embodied in the EPIRA: to ensure the quality, reliability, security and affordability of the supply of electric power,” Bello added, referring to the Electric Power Industry and Reform Act. LLANESCA T. PANTI

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