Palace: We’re helpless on power rates
MANILA, Philippines—Don’t expect Malacañang to wave a magic wand to quickly bring down power rates.
A Palace spokesperson said Friday the Aquino administration’s efforts to mitigate the impact of the higher cost of power are constrained by the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (Epira), which is widely blamed for the unabated spikes in power rates over the years.
“So while you believe that the Executive has so much perceived power, we are limited by what the law says. There is no magic wand to wave,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte admitted at a news briefing.
She made the remarks when asked about the government’s seeming helplessness in bringing down power rates, which are among the highest in the world.
Blame the law
“It’s because of the law that we have. Epira prevents government from being a power generator,” she said.
But Valte said that “something…can be done” as President Aquino had already asked relevant agencies to look into the problem.
“There’s something that can be done but within the bounds of the law, that’s what I meant,” she said.
“Precisely, which is why the President had asked already the relevant agencies to look into the problem and to find possible solutions that is always within the law for us to do. Because…you know people keep asking, ‘Why don’t you build your own power plants?’ Because of the law that we have. We can’t; the government can’t do that. You can’t put money into that because it’s prohibited (by Epira).”
She said the government “welcomes amendments” to the law, but said the Executive was not the right branch of government to make the initiative.
According to her, Congress should initiate the move.
When he attended the summit meeting of Asian leaders in Japan last month, the President expressed willingness to support certain amendments to Epira and Presidential Decree No. 910 that created the Malampaya Fund.
He said he was all for mitigating the impact of higher power rates on consumers, but this should be based on prevailing laws of the land.
A record increase in power rates in areas being serviced by Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) was struck down by the Supreme Court, which issued a 60-day temporary restraining order against the rate increase of more than P4 per kilowatt-hour.
On orders from Malacañang, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), which has supervision over power rates, have launched an investigation into reports of collusion by power suppliers after they shut down their plants simultaneously, prompting the rate increase.
Asked why the Palace was not taking the initiative of asking Congress to amend Epira, she said: “Which is why we’ve said that we welcome any initiatives to amend or at least to put forth amendments from our legislators to the Epira Law. But we would have to look into these proposed amendments before we can tell you fully that we’re on board to do this, or we don’t agree with this particular amendment.”
She said the “President has already given instructions to the relevant agencies to see what we can do.”
The government, however, has no timeframe for this congressional action.
“It would be logical if you would want to sacrifice thoroughness, but trust me that it’s a priority for them,” she said.
Valte said the Palace was still waiting for “any specific initiatives that they (energy officials) want to push as amendments.”
She balked at suggestions that the President should just certify as urgent pending bills in Congress seeking amendments to Epira.
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