Certify Epira review as urgent, Aquino urged

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A lawmaker on Monday urged President Benigno Aquino 3rd to certify the bills that seek the review and repeal of the disputed Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) as urgent to step into the highly-deregulated energy industry.

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Rep. Fernando Hicap of Anakpawis party list, author of House Bill 255 seeking for the repeal of Epira, said that there is no other culprit in the soaring rates in electricity but the law, which essentially privatized and deregulated the power industry.

“Political will and not emergency powers for Malacañang and President Benigno Aquino 3rd will give due solution to the crisis of high power rates,” Hicap said. “By now, the national government must realize the dire effects of Epira. A policy reversal is in order and necessary to resolve high power rates.”

Hicap pointed out that instead of fulfilling its promise of cheaper energy costs, Epira resulted to soaring power rates and was used to private power companies’ advantage.

“An urgent review of Epira is necessary. For the past 13 years, Epira was used and abused by power companies to their advantage. Private power companies have made a lucrative business out of the electric power industry at the expense of consumers,” he said.

Rep. Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar province backed the immediate review of the controversial law.

“It should really be [certified as urgent],” Evardone said. “I think we have to address that issue, because we will continue to be at the mercy of [power producers]. It’s a major policy question that Malacañang and Congress should decide.”

The lawmaker added that the Palace and the Congress should rethink the policy to tighten the regulations on the power industry. He intends to re-file the prohibition of cross-ownership in the power sector to prevent price manipulation.

“Because when you allow cross ownership, there’s the possibility of collusion. For example, if I were a distribution company and you are a supplier, why would I buy power from you? We would rather talk of our supply contract,” Evardone explained.

Epira was put into law in 2001 to cut down the increasing electricity prices brought about by the increasing debts of state-owned National Power Corporation (Napocor). However, the law, in effect, doubled electricity prices and maintained Napocor’s debt, according to a 2011 study by Ibon Foundation.

In the report “Power Failure: 10 years of Epira,” Ibon noted that Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) rates have increased by more than 112 percent from 2001 to 2011 while Napocor’s debts remained high at $15.8 billion in 2010 from $16.4 in 2001.

The state-controlled power utility even shelled out $18 billion to service its financial obligations within the 10 years of Epira’s implementation.

“The transfer of monopoly from the state to a few private corporations exposed the pretense of Epira about fostering competition for the benefit of consumers,” Ibon said. “Due to monopolies over generation and distribution, for instance, the so-called unbundling of rates to make the electricity bill transparent has become a meaningless exercise.” AFP

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