Malacañang is supporting the Senate inquiry to determine if power plant operators conspired to bring about the conditions that justify an increase in electricity rates.
In a press conference on Thursday, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the government is ready to take the steps to protect the public welfare.
”We reiterate the government’s determination to uphold and protect the citizens’ welfare and to implement our mandate under the law to prevent anti-competitive and market abuse practices,” he said.
”In view of this, we support the current Senate inquiry into the recent power rate adjustments,” Coloma said.
The Senate is looking into possible collusion among power plant operators to create an artificial power shortage and justify a record increase in electricity rates.
The operators came under suspicion after several plants shut down simultaneously at a time when the Malampaya natural gas facility in Palawan was closed for repairs.
Power distributor Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) said the shutdowns prompted it to raise its rates by P3.44 per kiloWatt-hour.
Coloma said the Senate inquiry “runs parallel to the ongoing investigation of the tripartite commission composed of the Department of Energy, Energy Regulatory Commission, and the Philippine Electricity Market Corp., as well as that of the Department of Justice’s Office of Competition.”
”We hope that the Senate inquiry will also lead to concrete proposals on how existing laws can be improved so that the protection of consumer welfare will be assured,” he added.
But Senate President Franklin Drilon made it clear that the Senate investigation is meant to determine if there is a need to review the Electricity Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) Law.
Drilon said the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) can look into the collusion angle.
The tripartite commission is scheduled to release its findings on December 30.
“The basic mandate of the NBI is to investigate crimes. The NBI and the DOJ have enough authorities under the existing laws to initiate an investigation,” Drilon said.
Drilon said he has yet to review the Epira law, but because suspicions of collusion have surfaced he believes the law needs closer scrutiny.
Senator JV Ejercito is also for reviewing the Epira law, saying it has failed to dismantle the power cartel or bring down the price of electricity.
“Overpricing is not new for power companies. The problem is, even after the implementation of the Epira law in 2001, the power rate has not lowered. The present charge is almost the same with the 2001 rate of P3.846 kwH,” Ejercito said.
A group of congressmen has asked the Supreme Court to stop the power rate hike.
Reps. Neri Javier Colmenares and Carlos Isagani Zarate of Bayan Muna; Reps. Luz Ilagan and Emmi de Jesus of Gabriela Women’s Party; Rep. Antonio Tinio of ACT Teachers Party; and Rep. Terry Ridon of Kabataan petitioned for a restraining order from the Court against the Energy Regulatory Commission and Meralco.
The petitioners said the rate increase was ill-timed, coming as it is “when the country is still reeling from the worse ever disaster brought by Super Typhoon Yolanda.”
They said “most of the end-users who will be suffering from more expensive electric bills from December to March are those who in some way have been likewise affected by the disasters which recently hit the country.”