Senate to review electric co-ops’ role amid concern over rising power rates

SENATE President Juan Miguel Zubiri, under interpellation at Monday’s session where he expressed concern over rising power rates in the provinces, gave assurances that “the Senate will be fair” to electric cooperatives.

The Senate leader gave the assurance under questioning at Monday’s plenary deliberations following his privileged speech as senators moved to review the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) enacted over 20 years ago.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros raised the question of “fairness” as she interpellated Zubiri  and expressed relief that the Senate leader “recognized the role of electric cooperatives” under the Epira passed in 2001.

Hontiveros conveyed her concerns as the Senate moved to review the Epira as one option to lower the power rates in the country. She asked Zubiri to “accord fair treatment to electric cooperatives,” adding that, “At any point during the discussions on the review of Epira, my fear is that the electric cooperatives will be placed in the hot seat.”

This developed as first-term Senator Raffy Tulfo vowed to mount an inquiry into recurring brownouts amid mounting complaints from affected business establishments and jittery household consumers regularly inconvenienced by intermittent power supply cut offs.

The “off-and-on” disturbing power situation prompted the senators to assess the need for remedial legislation in order to avert a recurring problem, with Tulfo initiating the move to tackle the problem head on.

In calling for the Senate investigation, Tulfo will preside as chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy, stressing “the need to assess and dig deeper into the persistent and recurring power outages and rotational blackouts in the different parts of the country.”

At the same time, he affirmed that the committee inquiry would also look into what was deemed to be the anomalous “rising cost of electricity amid these power interruptions.”

Tulfo clarified the Committee on Energy was mandated by Senate Resolution 107 to “find an immediate solution to an impending energy crisis and adopt necessary legislative measures that will provide long-term energy security, sufficiency and stability to all Filipinos.”

He vowed to pursue the probe and spare no one until a solution is found, saying, “Hindi ko tatantanan itong problemang ito hanggang hindi nabibigyan ng solusyon. Tamaan na ang dapat tamaan. Sagasaan na ang dapat sagasaan, para sa kapakanan at ikabubuti ng mga taong nire-represent ko at ng mga taong bumoto sa akin.”

Tulfo’s Senate Resolution 107 cited various reports claiming that by early to mid-2022, the Philippines “might be in for a serious energy crisis” with allegations of thinning power reserves, outdated energy system and the impending depletion of the Malampaya gas fields.

The lawmaker lamented that “the most perplexing concerns relative to the alleged forthcoming energy crisis are the cases of Oriental Mindoro and Albay, with reports of power and electric supply interruptions pervasive almost every day in these provinces, thus, power outages unreasonably becoming a way of life to their residents.”

He recalled that just last June 2022, at least 78 power interruption notices were announced by Albay Power and Energy Corp. on its social media account, “With at least 39 of those were scheduled power interruptions and there were 37 emergency power interruptions.”

At the same time, he observed that both Oriental and Occidental Mindoro “have been enduring six to 14 hours of power outages every day since June 27 causing shortage in power supply affecting over a million of its residents.”

“This problem has been going on again and again. Ito pa ang masaklap, pagdating ng oras ng bayaran ng kuryente, mataas ang singil sa consumers at mayroon pang pagbabanta, sa mga residente ito ng Mindoro, na kapag hindi ka nagbayad on time doon sa mataas na singil ng kuryente, ay puputulan ka ng linya,” he said.

Moreover, Tulfo deplored what he deemed to be “adding insult to the injury,” saying: “Napag-alaman ko, base sa isang reklamo sa aking program na ‘Wanted sa Radyo,’ na mayroon pang gana at kapal ng mukha itong mga taga-Oriental Mindoro Electric Cooperative o ORMECO na magpadagdag ng kanilang sweldo at bonus.”

In his Resolution 107, the senator reminded the inexplicable power supply interruptions and power rate hikes have “caused enormous discomfort, disturbance, and inconvenience to the Filipino people, essentially robbing them of their Constitutional right to quality life.”

He observed that aside from consumers in Albay and Occidental and Oriental Mindoro, residents of Camarines Norte, Laoag City and Olongapo City have also demanded explanations from authorities, particularly from electric cooperatives, on the rising rates of electricity despite scarcity in supply.

The senator also recalled the numerous complaints regarding unfair electricity charges and power outages, particularly from the consumers of Oriental Mindoro, Nueva Ecija, Northern Samar, Pampanga, Batangas, Quezon Province, South Cotabato, Maguindanao, Laguna, Zamboanga, Pangasinan, Tarlac, Marinduque, Camarines Norte, Isabela, Masbate, Aurora, Bicol, Southern Leyte and Davao Oriental, abound in different social media forums.