A lawmaker on Sunday raised fears that the investigation of the unprecedented power rate increase approved by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) could end up in a whitewash.
Rep. Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna said the Department of Energy (DOE) is under intense pressure from the power producers who are suspected to have conspired to manipulate electricity rates.
Colmenares urged the ERC to immediately release the result of its investigation to allay suspicions that it is succumbing to pressure to clear the power producers.
“We have received reports from insiders doing the collusion probe that they are finding it hard to release the report even if it was way past their December 30 deadline because of the pressure from the power cartel that the investigation should say that there is no collusion,” Colmenares said.
Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla ordered the inquiry into the P4.15 per kilowatt-hour hike charged by the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco).
Energy Undersecretary Raul Aguilos told the House committee on energy in December there could have been collusion among power producers after nine power plants simultaneously shut down in November while the Malampaya natural gas plant was undergoing its annual maintenance check.
The shutdowns caused power rates to soar to P33.22 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) from P13.74 at the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM).
“It is clear from the outset of the Congress investigation that even just based on the initial investigation done by the DOE, there are indications of collusion or cartelization of the power industry,” Colmenares said.
“It can only be changed when Malacañang, the DOE and the ERC would turn a blind eye to this and say that they can do nothing. Add to this the pressure from the power cartel that there would be blackouts when they are not paid then the result is a whitewash.”
Colmenares said the Philippine Independent Power Producers Association (PIPPA) as well as the Palace, is “conditioning the minds of the people that there is no collusion among the power generators and that the P4.15 power rate increase should be shouldered by electricity consumers without complain.”
President Benigno Aquino 3rd has said he cannot do anything to stop the rate increase.
On December 23, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order stopping Meralco from collecting the rate increase. The Court will hear oral arguments in the case on January 21.
Meralco justified the rate increase, saying it was forced to buy expensive electricity from the WESM to make up for the 2,700-megawatt deficit in the Luzon grid.
Last week, PIPPA President Luis Miguel Aboitiz denied any conspiracy among power generators and warned that blackouts loom if power rates are not increased.
Colmenares urged the DOE to release the result of its investigation.
“The longer the report takes, the more pressure or blackmail the power cartel will exert on the investigators to exonerate themselves,” he said.
Malacañang also on Sunday gave assurances that the government is taking steps to ensure there will be no power outages during the summer months.
In a radio interview, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the DOE is coordinating with stakeholders to ensure a stable power supply.
“We cannot allow widespread or frequent power outages because it will be bad for the economy,” Coloma said.
“We can expect the Department of Energy to continue monitoring the situation,” he added.
Coloma said the government is open to a study of the 12-year-old Electric Power Industry Reform Act.
The government will consider all proposals that will protect consumers from unjust power rate hikes, he said.
“After more than 12 years, it is time to study the provisions of the law and replace its weak points with provisions that will benefit the people,” he said.
WITH REPORT FROM CATHERINE VALENTE