Filipino-Chinese power grid operator faces franchise review: senator

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 03 2020 03:47 PM

MANILA -- The franchise of a Filipino-Chinese consortium that operates the Philippines' power grid will be reviewed, a senator said, after its alleged refusal to cooperate with government inspectors was raised in a legislative inquiry.

During a hearing on alleged Chinese influence on the grid, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said the "uncooperative" National Grid Corp had refused inspections since 2017.

The NGCP is the private consortium that operates the grid, which connects power plants to distribution utilities. A government firm, Transco or the National Transmission Co, owns the grid infrastructure.

Cusi said the government should not be barred from performing its regulatory function. "If we do not clear this up, this will be a monster at the end of the period," he said, referring to NGCP's concession agreement with the state.

"I have a very simple deal: You allow the audit or we will move to review your franchise because we have established that you violated your franchise," Senator Sherwin Gatchalian told NGCP officials.

During a later interview with reporters, Gatchalian said the franchsie review will proceed whether or not NGCP allows an inspection of its facilities.

Gatchalian said NGCP's designation of a foreign national Wen Bo, as its second highest official violated the Constitution.

"Ang ating Constitution ang pinaka basic na batas. Kung may negosyo na hindi sumusunod dito, wala siyang karapatan na mag-operate," Gatchalian said.

(The Constitution is the most basic of laws. Anyone who doesn't follow it does not have the right to operate.)

Wen Bo had signed several transmission contracts in behalf of NGCP since 2011, Senator Richard Gordon said, showing documents his office obtained.

A foreign technical partner is a "requirement" under NGCP's concession agreement with the government, NGCP spokesperson Cynthia Alabanza said in a separate interview.

The Senate panel moved to subpoena all NGCP documents related to the appointment of Wen Bo, and all the contracts he signed since NGCP started operating the grid in 2009.

The grid's security structure must be periodically reviewed to guard "critical" infrastructure, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said in a statement.

"There will always be a need for a review on the dictum that there is no impenetrable barrier," Esperon told senators.