House defers action on franchise bid of solar power firm

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 13 2018 04:38 PM

MANILA - The House Leadership is not acting on the franchise application of a solar company owned by the son of Senator Loren Legarda for now.

The firm's franchise application remains pending for approval before the Rules Committee and has yet to secure endorsement to the plenary, House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya told ABS-CBN News.
 
The energy department and regulatory commission, as well as some House members have opposed the bill, he noted.

“Even if we approved it for plenary, the chairman of the Franchise committee is not willing nor ready to sponsor the bill as of last session," he said in a text message.

Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, who chairs the House legislative franchises committee, is among the 33 authors of a proposed law allowing Solar Para Sa Bayan Corporation to install and operate power technologies and mini-grid systems across the country to improve access to sustainable energy.

A committee report on the bill was submitted last September 3, referred to the Rules Committee the next day and included on that same day in the order of business.

On Wednesday, 1-Pacman Party-List Rep. Michael Romero and 14 other congressmen filed a resolution asking the House rules committee to send the bill back to the legislative franchises panel for further deliberations.

The "unconstitutional nature" of the measure grants Solar a master franchise to operate across the country, which he equates to a "blanket authority that would allow it to infringe and encroach on all existing franchises of main transmission grids," Romero said in a press conference on Wednesday.

The bill, he said, would also curb competition in the market.

“The limitless feature of this bill, which grants solar ability to put up mini-grids anywhere they want throughout the Philippines, even if these areas are already served and electrified by other players. There are enough laws today for Solar to complete in all levels of the electric power sector. So, the need for this law is utmost questionable but to bring in a monopoly of a super corporation,” he said.

The issue, however, has nothing to do with Senator Legarda because Atienza has confirmed her sons are the company owners, said Romero.

Legarda, he added, has not reached out to lawmakers.

Romero notes the franchise bill would also clip the government’s powers of regulation.

Unlike other firms regulated by the energy department and attached agencies, Solar will be "created by law and would stand alone as the only power franchise that is not regulated by any government agency-- a god among the mortals," said Romero.

The firm also asks for incentives that are "a mockery of the whole Duterte government’s quest to reform our taxes," the lawmaker alleged.

"Solar through its original bill asks for a mere 3 percent gross income tax in lieu of all taxes that will be bestowed by the government, giving this company undue advantage over the rest of the mere mortal power sector industry players,” he said.

Romero later admitted that the lower income tax was deleted in the committee report and replaced with other fiscal and monetary incentives.

RAILROADING?

Atienza, meanwhile, claimed that the bill was railroaded.

Some members of the franchises committee, he said, "called for a vote rather than to discuss the issue. The acting chairman called for a vote."

"Sad to admit, 'pag may botohan yung gusto sumipsip sa may kapangyarihan eh boboto as one, 4 lang kami bumoto against," he added.

(It's sad to admit, but when there is a voting, those who want to suck up to those in power would vote as one, there were only 4 of us who voted against.)

Stakeholders from the power sector also submitted position papers opposing the bill. The private sector, however, had no participation at the committee hearings, he added.

Atienza said Andaya gave the assurance that he will not endorse the bill to the plenary yet.

Yap and other authors of the bill are supporters of House Speaker Gloria Arroyo.

Arroyo and Andaya, however, do not back the measure, said Atienza.

"The Majority leader reflects the Speaker. The Speaker herself has not lobbied for the approval or anything. In fact, sabi nga (she said) niya continue your study of the issues and bring it out to the public," he said.
 
Report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News