Senator Win Gatchalian on Wednesday appealed to the House of Representatives to reconsider its decision to drastically cut the 2018 budget of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) as he cautioned his fellow legislators of its potentially devastating impact on the stability of the power sector.
The senator’s comments came a day after the House approved a P1000 budget for the ERC, which had originally requested an allocation of P365 million to fund its operations next year.
Under the current energy regulatory framework, the ERC is responsible for approving power rates and issuing key permits required to get pending power projects off the ground. Gatchalian expressed concern that the massive budget cut would severely hamper the ERC’s ability to fulfill these functions.
“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,” said Gatchalian, the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee.
He also expressed concern about the effect of the budget cut on the rank-and-file employees of ERC, noting that the P365 million deleted from the budget of the regulatory body included a P14 million appropriation for retirement and life insurance benefits.
With these concerns in mind, Gatchalian urged his congressional peers to consider adopting more constructive means of addressing the issues of corruption and inefficiency which have plagued the ERC as of late.
“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,” said Gatchalian, noting that several cases against ERC Chairman Jose Salazar and the ERC commissioners are already pending before various bodies.
The senator also encouraged the members of the House to support his initiative to legislate institutional reforms in 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. He urged House members interested in cleaning up the ERC to champion these reforms in the lower chamber.
“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,” Gatchalian said.