Senate okays bill that seeks to lower cost of electricity

MANILA -- The Senate approved on Monday a bill seeking to lower electricity cost and provide savings to power consumers.

With 13 affirmative votes, one negative vote and no abstention, Senate Bill No. 1439, or the "Energy Virtual One Stop Shop (EVOSS) Act of 2017 was approved on third and final reading.

The measure was sponsored and authored by Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chair of the Senate Committee on Energy, and co-authored by Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri.

The passage of this landmark energy legislation is a crucial step toward ensuring that the country's energy sector will promote the welfare of household energy consumers, Gatchalian said in a press statement.

This is the beginning of the end for exorbitant power rates in the Philippines, he added.

Gatchalian said the bill primarily focused on eliminating red tape.

"This legislation seeks to streamline the permitting process of new energy generation projects, thus cutting the length of the permitting process in half," Gatchalian said.

He explained that the faster and simplified permitting process would allow foreign investors with the capacity to build power plants to enter the market and stimulate competition in the Philippine energy generation industry.

The increased competition would then drive down generation costs.

Gatchalian's bill mandates the establishment of the Energy Virtual One-Stop-Shop (EVOSS) under the supervision of by the Department of Energy (DOE).

The EVOSS is an online system that "allows single submission and synchronous processing of required data and information and provides a single decision-making portal for the evaluation of new power generation projects."

Under the bill, the EVOSS would ensure the "secure, accessible and paperless" processing of documentary requirements, assessment, and payment of charges and fees, status updates and progress monitoring, not only for applicants, but also for national and local government offices and entities involved in the permitting process of energy generation projects.

Based on conversations with industry analysts and his own internal research, Gatchalian said that cutting down red tape could reduce consumer electricity prices by as much as PHP1 per kWh.

He said this would translate to a total consumer savings of PHP 55.2 billion a year or annual savings of PHP2,400 for ordinary families.

"An extra PHP 2,400 can do a lot for a family. That is enough to buy a sack of rice with some extra cash to spend on tuition and school supplies for the children, healthcare, and other essentials," he said.

Balik Scientist hurdles 3rd reading

Aside from the EVOSS Act of 2017, the Senate also approved on third and final reading a bill which seeks to institutionalize benefits and incentives for scientists, engineers, and innovators of Filipino descent residing overseas to encourage them to stay in the country and work for national development.

With 13 affirmative votes, no negative vote and no abstention, Senate Bill No. 1533, also known as the Balik Scientist Act was approved on third and final reading.

The measure was principally authored and sponsored by Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV.

"It is about time that we institutionalized and strengthened the Balik Scientist Program so that more brilliant Filipino minds residing abroad can help our nation move forward into prosperity," Aquino said.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Senators Juan Miguel Zubiri, Joel Villanueva, Richard Gordon, Grace Poe, Sherwin Gatchalian, JV Ejercito and Cynthia Villar also served as co-sponsors of the measure.

Aquino's measure would institutionalize the Balik Scientist Program, which was first launched in 1975 "to bring back Filipino scientists, engineers, and technology entrepreneurs to work in various fields, including health, food and agriculture, information and communications technology, and alternative energy."

Among the benefits, incentives and privileges to be made available to Balik Scientists under the program are tax and duty exemptions to importation of professional equipment and materials, exemption from licensing or permitting requirements, free medical and accident insurance "covering the duration of the engagement awarded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), reimbursement of expenses for baggage related to scientific projects, and exemption from "renouncing their oath of allegiance to the country where they took the oath."

It also sets different incentives and benefits for Balik Scientists who would either work for the Philippines under a short-term program (minimum of 15 days to maximum of six months), a medium-term program (more than 6 months but not exceeding one year) or long-term program (one to three years, subject to DOST renewal).

The bill also mandates additional benefits and rewards for "long-term" Balik Scientists, such as the grant of special non-immigrant visas to the scientist, his or her spouse, and their dependents as well as exemptions from requirements like immigration clearance certificate, alien employment permits, and payment of multiple entry fees.

Under the bill, long-term Balik Scientists awardees would enjoy relocation benefits, such as support in securing job opportunities for the spouse of the awardee, and admission support for the children of awardees in preferred schools, relocation allowance and monthly housing or accommodation allowance, and funding for the establishment and development of a facility or laboratory.

Source: Philippine News Agency