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Don’t meddle with power rate issues, lower courts told

By: - Correspondent / @melvingasconINQ
/ 05:54 AM March 02, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — Lower courts should not intervene in disputes involving the setting of power rates or risk usurping the exclusive powers of the Energy Regulatory Commission, lawmakers said on Friday.

Members of the joint committees on justice, public accounts and good government questioned the alleged interference by lower courts on the setting of power rates, saying judges should immediately dismiss suits of such nature that are brought before them.

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Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso, justice committee chair, chided the decision of a Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Mandaluyong City to tackle a case filed by South Premier Power Corp. (SPPC), an affiliate of San Miguel Corp. (SMC).

SPPC is contesting P23.9 billion in accumulated debt that is being collected by state-owned Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management (PSALM) Corp. for the former’s operation of the 1,200-megawatt Ilijan power plant in Batangas City.

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In the pending case filed since 2015, the Mandaluyong RTC has barred PSALM from terminating its contract with SPPC.

Not allowed by Epira

According to Veloso, Republic Act No. 9136 or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) does not allow courts lower than the Court of Appeals to meddle in cases involving electricity rates and other power-related issues.

He quoted a provision in the Epira which gives the ERC “original and exclusive jurisdiction over all cases contesting rates, fees, fines and penalties imposed by the ERC … and over all cases involving disputes between and among participants or players in the energy sector.”

The Leyte lawmaker said he would raise this issue of “intervention” by lower courts with the Supreme Court.

The joint committees resumed on Wednesday their investigation into the P95 billion that private power generators owed to the government.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Veloso called out the SPPC counsel for filing a complaint with the Mandaluyong RTC for a dispute involving its plant in Batangas City.

No jurisdiction

“You are a lawyer, and you very well know that the jurisdiction of any court is conferred by law, not by any private contract. In this case, the Epira is clear: the Mandaluyong RTC has no jurisdiction,” said Veloso, a former Court of Appeals justice.

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According to Anakalusugan party list Rep. Mike Defensor, the inquiry also seeks to provide “remedial legislation” to parties involved in the disputes involving PSALM.

In aid of legislation

“Our inquiry is principally in aid of legislation, though we at the same time want to help the executive branch to collect this huge amount of receivables,” Defensor, who chairs the committee on public accounts, said.

According to Defensor, the joint House committees have received commitments from representatives of Manila Electric Co. and three other power firms that they would settle their P23.4 billion debt to the government.

Among these include Northern Renewables Generation Corp., which clarified that it has paid its debt to PSALM under a settlement agreement approved by a Cebu City court.

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TAGS: Epira, lower courts, power rate issues, Psalm, Vicente Veloso
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