House allocation of P1K budget could squeeze ERC dead

File photo ERC commissioners' meeting.
File photograph of an ERC commissioners' meeting.

MANILA, Philippines – In a move that could effectively dissolve the Energy Regulatory Commission, the House of Representatives gave the agency a measly budget of P1,000 for 2018.

During plenary deliberation of the agency’s budget Tuesday, September 5, lawmakers supported a motion by Zamboanga City Representative Celso Lobregat to give ERC only P1,000.

The proposed budget of ERC for 2018 is P350.9 million.

The P1,000 budget is not yet final, though, as the 2018 budget bill will still go to the Senate for deliberation.

“This is a strong message that the ERC should fixed its problems,” Lobregat said.

The agency has been mired in controversy, including allegations of corruption and infighting. It chairman, Jose Vicente Salazar, remains suspended.

In February this year, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez filed a bill seeking to abolish the ERC following the suicide of a director over alleged pressures to award an anomalous contract.

“The suspicions raised against the integrity of the ERC, which is primarily entrusted with regulating the country’s electric industry and promoting competition in the market, cannot be ignored,” Alvarez said in introducing House Bill No. 5020.

The Speaker proposed to replace the ERC with the Board of Energy, which will be attached to the Department of Energy.

In a separate interview, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said the lawmakers were disappointed with ERC for failing to protect the welfare of electricity consumers, and instead pursued questioned deals with private distributors and power providers.

During the pre-plenary briefings, Zarate scolded ERC officials for failing to submit documents on the Meralco-affiliated power sale agreements (PSAs) and on the Malampaya shutdown in 2013.

Recently, the ERC also approved the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management (PSALM) Corp.’s petition to recover P21.47 billion in costs incurred in power plant operations from 2007 to 2014. The costs included foreign currency adjustments and fuel and power purchases.

Zarate asked President Rodrigo Duterte to overhaul the agency, observing that all of its commissioners were often siding with big energy players “to the detriment of power consumers.”