EDITORIAL: Osmena’s Hidden Agenda

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It’s a seesaw game for a senator from Cebu who defended the EPIRA to his last breath. The people’s temper has changed the playing field. The court and the regulatory bodies are now bent to supporting people’s interests.

That Senator Serge Osmena III is pressing for drastic changes in the 12-year-old Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) betrays what could be his hidden agenda in protecting the interests of his billion pesos clients – the electricity companies.

The recent spate of Supreme Court ruling barring Meralco from jacking up its rates to historic highs must have spurred him to take a look anew at Epira, the power reform bill he ironically sponsored in the Senate as chair of its energy committee.

A major piece of reform meant to address the nation’ persistent electricity woes, that legislation appears to have disappointed power suppliers as it became a stumbling block to their obsession to rake in more profits.

With the Supreme Court actively taking a pro-people stance in the face of surging power rates, electricity companies – including Senator Osmena himself – are certainly mulling over ways on how to amend the law by plugging its gaping loopholes that had given rise to lawsuits lodged before the Supreme Court.

Undoubtedly, Meralco fell short of its profit forecasts in the wake of the High Court’s freezing of what could have amounted to a grand deception in style of gullible consumers.

This is despite that for decades and even prior to Epira’s enactment into law in 2001, Meralco and other money-driven utilities – had been wallowing in profits – all at the expense of the poor consumers.

Where lies the fault? For Osmena, it’s certainly back to the drawing board.

Apparently, Osmena must be wracking his brains and definitely, like any astute politician, he won’t stop at anything not even in the face of a snowballing campaign by well-meaning business groups, both foreign and local, calling for respect – and enough time – to allow the sanctity of the law to gain headway in a democratic setting.


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By Miguel Raymundo

In 2001, the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) became a law, promising every Filipino that power supply will be efficient and less costly.

Thirteen years after, this year, and even in previous years, EPIRA has been proven to be anti-people and pro big money. This is one law that is proven to continually feed corporate greed.

Before EPIRA, the problem of electricity supply was getting worse every passing year. Many accused the former President Cory Aquino for causing, deliberate or not, the worsening power supply situation in the country.

The mother of President Benigno Aquino III, under a revolutionary government, shot down all plans and preparations by the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the power sector. The Bataan nuclear power plant never got off the ground, wasting billions of pesos in investments, including kickbacks to the former dictator and his agents.
EPIRA was supposed to be the answer and solution to the rising energy woes. Senator Francis Escudero, though, thinks otherwise.

“Epira has become a misnomer to its purpose. Instead of reforming the business environment to better service and improve delivery of supply and lower rates,… it has caused the government to lose control of the power industry,” Escudero said.

He pointed out that the Philippines holds the record of having the costliest electricity in the Asia. Cost of electricity in the Philippines is second highest in the world.

Why this has happened, that Epira resulted in Filipinos paying the most pricey cost of electricity in the world, did not come as an accident. This is a result of a deliberate plan of hijacking a law.

When the purpose of a law and the results in its implementation take different paths, this is not because the law is wrong, but because some powerful forces bend the law and get away with it. And these powerful forces think and act like they own the Philippines and the Filipinos.

So Epira, which was originally conceived as pro-people, ended up as anti-people. Every Filipino paying for the most expensive electricity is the victim of this hijacking of the law.

The sad part is, there is mechanism in our system that makes sure that the law is enforced so the people will truly benefit from its purpose. This mechanism is described as the oversight powers of congress. In the case of Epira, there is the Joint Congressional Power Commission (JCPC) co-chaired by Senator Sergio Osmeña and Rep. Reynaldo Umali.
JCPC was tasked to make sure that the law is followed and its intention served. The law was crafted to make sure that power supply was more than ample and the people pay lowest cost, competition being driver to lower prices.

Thirteen years after, we see why the purpose of the law has not been served, its intention waylaid by people mandated to protect it.

Senator Serge Osmeña could be one reason there is abundant abuse by the power players in the power sector. The senator from Cebu is suspect to be protecting the power players instead of the consumers.

Political observers say that the Filipino is just paying the price for electing this Senator Osmeña to the senate. And the price comes in tens of pesos for every kilowatt hour we pay for electricity.

Individually and in tens of pesos, the price we pay for having Osmeña in the senate is not much. Add them up into some total of millions of Meralco subscribers and billions of kilowatt-hours we consume every month, and you end up making these power companies richer by hundreds of billions if not trillions by this time, after a decade.

Sources in the power sector explains that “Osmeña is the chief praetorian guard of the power generation companies that call themselves independent power producers.”

Senator Serge Osmeña is married to the daughter of Albertito Lopez, Betina Mejia Lopez. The Lopez family owns power generation companies and formerly controlled Meralco, the biggest power distributor in the Philippines.
Osmeña indeed is the power players’ praetorian guard in the protection of their corporate greed. That he is so, has been made obvious in the latest move by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

In an unexpected move, everyone in the consumers’ advocacy groups was happily surprised, when ERC voided an earlier approved P4.15 per kilowatt-hour rate increase in generation charges. For the first time, ERC takes a stand that at least embarrassed the big power players and, at most, cut down their greed.

Immediately, Osmeña came out fighting for Meralco, expressing disappointment and displeasure to the President. Stopping Meralco from collecting huge profits, Osmeña described, “was good politics, but bad economics.”

In a fit of rage, he accused the Department of Energy head as an “awful manager”. He promised to block the DOE secretary’s confirmation in the Commission of Appointments. And Osmeña keeps his promise.

The act of ERC in stopping Meralco from collecting those huge profits was in accordance to its mandate, written in the Epira.

This senator is a little confused, or are we? Escudero wants to amend the Epira. But Osmeña says Epira is a good law. However, when ERC followed the law, Osmeña raises hell.

That Epira has lost its reason and purpose for the people cannot be more evident by the growing call for its abolition and the rising demand to nationalize power generation and distribution.

“This is a heartless government. There is massive poverty, 75% of the Filipinos live below the poverty line, yet cost of electricity is most expensive in the world,” lawyer Rey Cardeno, a consumer advocate, said.

According to Cardeno, when cost of electricity is high, everything else becomes very expensive. The time has come to nationalize the power sector and all basic services and utilities.

Privatization has not worked for the people’s good. Privatization has served only to create ten more billionaires and tens of millions more hungrier Filipinos.

Cardeno and his groups will push for the abolition of Epira as being anti-people and pro corporate greed.