ERC budget cut could affect stability of power sector: senator

MANILA -- The budget cut in the Energy Regulatory Commission's (ERC) 2018 budget to a mere PHP1,000 from its initial PHP365-million proposal could affect the stability of the power sector, a senator said Wednesday.

In a statement, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian urged the House of Representatives to reconsider its decision to slash the ERC 2018 budget as this would have a huge impact on the power sector's stability.

"The ERC plays an indispensable role in the energy sector as its foremost regulatory institution. I fear that this budget cut will send a bad signal to energy investors and breed uncertainty in terms of electricity supply and power rates," he said.

Gatchalian, chair of the Senate Committee on Energy, added the budget cut could affect the ERC's rank-and-file employees, noting that the proposed PHP365-million budget included a PHP14-million appropriation for retirement and life insurance benefits.

Instead of cutting the commission's budget, the senator urged his fellow lawmakers to consider pursuing administrative and criminal charges against erring ERC officials.

"It would be better to aggressively pursue administrative and criminal charges against erring ERC officials instead of punishing the entire agency as a whole for the sins of the higher-ups," Gatchalian said.

He said several cases against ERC Chairman Jose Salazar and the ERC commissioners are already pending before various bodies.

"I agree with my peers in the House when they say that the ERC really needs to shape up, and I believe that legislating long-term institutional reforms is the most constructive way of making this happen," he added.

Meanwhile, he also encouraged congressmen to support his initiative to legislate institutional reforms meant to clean up the ERC.

Gatchalian has filed Senate Bill No. 1490, also known as the ERC Governance Act of 2017, which seeks to enhance accountability and transparency within the regulatory body by instituting structural reforms and liberalizing access to information concerning the Commission's deliberations and output.

Citing the current energy regulatory framework, Gatchalian said the ERC is responsible for approving power rates and issuing key permits required to get pending power projects off the ground.

On Tuesday, Zamboanga City Representative Celso Lobregat moved to sponsor only a PHP1,000 budget for ERC next year, saying his proposal was done at the instruction of House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who wants to send a strong message that the lower chamber really wants a quick resolution to the internal problems hounding the ERC.

I think that would send a very strong message that the House of Representatives really wants the problems in ERC fixed, he said.

Source: Philippine News Agency