House OKs only P1000 for ERC's 2018 budget

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 05 2017 07:17 PM

The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a meager P1000 for Energy Regulatory Commission's (ERC) 2018 budget, a sign of lawmakers' displeasure over the agency's controversies.

Zamboanga Rep. Celso Lobregat, sponsor of the ERC's P365M budget proposal for 2018 at the plenary deliberations of the Lower House, made the motion after meeting with Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

Lobregat said Alvarez wanted to "send a very strong message."

"It's been a long time since Congress has approved a P1 peso or P1000 budget. And more or less after the meeting with the speaker that was the result," he said.

He said even if Alvarez wanted to give only P1, the budget allowed was only by the thousands so they ended up approving P1000. 

Lobregat clarified this did not mean ERC's abolition. 

"'[If you] abolish, [it will be] zero. At least they have P1000. The internal problems of ERC really have to be resolved and if you put money into there, it will just be a waste," he said.

Lobregat added that the budget will take effect next year, giving the ERC enough time to address the concerns of the House and get their budget back. 

After being approved by the House, the budget will go through the Senate and the bicameral conference committee.

"Sana maayos nila problema before 2018. I think that will send a very strong message the HOR really wants the problems in the ERC fixed," he said.

Lobregat also revealed that the dismissal of the ERC Chairman Jose Vicente Salazar has been sought by commissioners in a petition filed before the Office of the President. 

"We will see what will happen. Two of the commissioners were here...and napakinggan nila, sila mismo nagsabi na nag-file ng kaso asking for the dismissal of the chairman," he said.

Zeroing or reducing an agency's budget is not new. Previous Congresses have resorted to such in the past to show displeasure over agencies or their officials. 

In the case of ERC, the agency has been the subject of investigations by the House Committee on Good Government over the suicide of ERC official Francisco Villa Jr. over allegedly anomalous procurement practices under Salazar, and the approval of the ERC of an alleged anomalous deal that allowed power distributor Meralco to source electricity from sister companies.