“HOW many more have to die, amidst the sufferings of tens of millions of power consumers, before we act against the supposed irregularities within the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC)?”
House Assistant Majority Floor Leader and Bagong Henerasyon (BH) party-list Rep. Bernadette “BH” Herrera-Dy raised the question as she expressed the urgency of an inquiry to determine the surrounding circumstances that forced an ERC ranking official to commit suicide.
“I believe the sacrifice of a very precious life must be considered as an eye-opener to all of us,” said Herrera-Dy, referring to the reported suicide of ERC Director Francisco Jose Villa., Jr.
On June 30, 2016, barely five months before Villa took his life, Herrera-Dy had already filed House Resolution (HR) No. 33 calling for a review of the ERC rate-setting practices, as well as study for a full rate audit geared at enforcing a sound rate-setting methodology.
Prior studies revealed that electricity rates in Philippines are among the highest in Asia, she said.
“We are billed at First World prices under Third World wages. A full blown legal and rate audit is needed over what appear to be ERC’s failures that have turned the said agency into a virtual puppet of special interests,” said Herrera-Dy.
The ERC, the solon explained, allegedly failed to conduct its primary duty to reset rates of utilities operating under the Performance Based Regulation (PBR) for the past three years and the 10 months, saying revenues and expenditures of utilities like Manila Electric Company (Meralco) have not been reviewed or audited for the last six years.
According to HR 33, Meralco and the other utilities were granted Interim Average Rates without any review of their past performance practically giving them a free pass on their collections for the Third Regulatory Period.
It also stated that in the case of Meralco alone, that can be over P266 billion, including the first 16 months of the Fourth Regulatory Period.
PBR has notably broken the Regulatory Reset or review timeline into 4-year segment, called regulatory periods and the 4th started on July 1, 2015 with no reset being undertaken, she said.
Under the proper procedure, Herrera-Dy said rates can be questioned only in the reset.
She said there are 17 privately owned distribution utilities, aside from the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, operating under PBR.
“Of course this is where the Commission on Audit should really come in. This independent Constitutional body should now conduct the full-blown audit of ERC, the rates and the rate-setting methodologies already in place or to be proposed, “ Herrera-Dy pointed out.
“Who knows that if a House inquiry was timely constituted, such could have been the help line for the beleaguered Dir. Villa,” the lawmaker surmised. “But we will not detract from or diminish the value of his self-sacrifice as the wake-up call for us to focus on the ills that plague ERC and the power source industry.”