By AUREA CALICA
The Philippine Star
More senators vowed to push for more amendments to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) and other measures that can reduce electricity rates.
Sen. Francis Escudero, chairman of the Senate ways and means committee, said the amendments being proposed by Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile would not be enough to ensure that prices of electricity would go down.
Sen. Edgardo Angara would support amendments to the EPIRA to stop irrelevant pass-on charges such as stranded costs and franchise taxes imposed by local government units as well as cutting down systems loss being charged to consumers.
Escudero said he did not vote for EPIRA when it was first passed because he did not believe it would help bring down electricity prices.
"We need to amend the EPIRA but I am not sure if the amendments being discussed right now will work to bring down prices," Escudero said.
Under Enrile’s proposal, Escudero said the "take or pay" clause was not included as well as the huge systems loss being passed on to consumers.
He said the need to address National Power Corp.’s mismanagement and debts was also not in the bill sponsored by Enrile.
Escudero said he would voice out his own proposals during the period of amendments.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said his fellow opposition members also opted to meet first and discuss the necessary changes in the current EPIRA to ensure that it would result in the reduction of electricity charges.
Pimentel said they did not mean to delay the passage of the EPIRA, adding that they would try to file their proposal this week.
"Incidentally, I propose that once our amendments are ready, we will go into caucus so we will identify what amendments they can and can not accept, we’ll just debate it on the floor, to fast-track," Pimentel told reporters.
Those in the minority, aside from Pimentel, are Senators Panfilo Lacson, Manuel Roxas II, Loren Legarda, Benigno Aquino III, Jamby Madrigal and Rodolfo Biazon. Another member is Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV who is in jail for coup d’etat charges and cannot appear at the Senate.
The seven-year-old EPIRA is considered a failure as the target of further increasing private sector participation in the power industry remains to be seen as evidenced by the slow pace of privatization of Napocor’s generation assets.
Critics said one of the major reasons for the passage of EPIRA that mandates the privatization of Napocor and the restructuring of the entire power industry was the growing debts and liabilities to the independent power producers (IPPs) of the state-owned power corporation. But this problem still exists, they noted.
Pimentel and Legarda also filed separate bills to stop Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) from passing on the costs of systems loss to customers.
Meralco was also accused of passing its own electric bills and the hefty salaries of its executives to consumers.
Pimentel noted they would also look into the responsibilities of Napocor and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) in the country’s high electricity rates.
"The opposition submits that the ERC is sleeping on the job. It has not been pro-active in its role of protecting the consumers. It has allowed electric companies to collect unwarranted charges to the consumers," Pimentel said.
Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes has assured foreign business groups that the Philippines will continue to study ways to improve electricity rate levels.
In his recent speech before a Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines (JFC) forum, Reyes said the government would be pursuing a policy environment that will result in efficient and affordable energy services.
In its recently released open letter to President Arroyo, JFC said "the Philippines must have short term or spot market strategy, a medium term strategy, and ultimately a long term strategy for the procurement of fuel in order to optimize the impact of rising fuel costs on energy prices."
Reyes rolled out various DOE action plans to have fair power rates through the EPIRA law and regularization of the Multi-Stakeholders’ Dialogue.
He said that based on data gathered from the website of the Heads of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Power Utilities Association, the Philippines ranked second highest in power rates next to Cambodia.
As of 2007, Philippine electricity rates reached $0.1750 per kilowatt-hour, next to Cambodia at $0.1768. Singapore’s power rate was placed at $0.1307 while that of Thailand is $0.085. – With Donnabelle Gatdula