Thursday, March 19, 2009

Groups oppose power rate hike in ERC hearing in Cebu

By CARINE M. ASUTILLA, ABS-CBN News Central Visayas | 03/19/2009 11:18 PM

Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) lead a labor and other activist groups for a protest Thursday during the expository hearing on National Power Corporation’s (NPC) power rate increase presided by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

Representatives from the NPC went out from the hearing to face the protesters. Bong Mendiola, a representative from NPC, explained that their application for the P1.14 increase per kilowatt hour is intended to operate a more expensive plant.

“The load of Visayas as of now, medyo tight ang power situation natin, ibig sabihin ‘yong konsumo malapit ng masagad ‘yong planta naming, ‘yong available capacity namin,” said Mendiola.

Mendiola said that the application was filed last 2007 but was denied. He said that they just revived the application in partnership with Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation. Mendiola also added that their last increase was implemented in 2004 when P0.20 was approved.

Aaron Pedrosa, Sanlakas spokesperson, said that Mendiola admitted to them that the increase in power rate is part of their privatization scheme to attract investors to buy NPC. He said that if investors will buy the NPC with high rates already implemented, it will be easier for investors to get back their investments.

“Why would they say that they wanted to give better service to consumers when they are already in privatization mode? They are just making electricity not accessible to the masses,” he said.

Lito Vasquez of FDC-Cebu said that 70 percent of the NPC’s asset is already privatized. He said that based on Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001, the investor who will buy NPC is not obliged to pay the liabilities or debts of the NPC.

As of February 2009, PSALM reported that NPC has $5.9 billion debt. The debt will be assumed by PSALM before NPC will be sold to private investors. But Vasquez said that it will still be the taxpayers who will have to pay the debts while at the same time they would suffer also from a high power rate.

Different representatives from the sectors of consumer, industrial, church and power distributor attended the expository hearing. Some of them took the chance to submit their position papers opposing the power hike increase.

Elinore Cabanilla from the Social Action Center of Diocese in Bacolod said that their diocese feels that the increase of power rate in the Visayas is too much for the consumers, given that the increase in Luzon and in Mindanao is less compared to Visayas. Luzon has P0.46 while Mindanao has an increase of P0.71.

Cabanilla said that in their cathedral, they consume more than P50,000 worth of electricity in a month and if the increase will be implemented, they will have to pay more than that. She said the church might not be able to handle it. She said that the diocese of Bacolod has 69 parishes.

She said that their concern mostly is for their parishioners who are already affected by the global financial crisis. She said that if the increase in power rate will be implemented, sooner or later, prices of basic commodities will also rise.

Cabanilla also expressed her disappointment with the dioceses in other provinces, particularly in Cebu for not sending a representative on the hearing. Cabanilla said that the church should take a stand for its parishioners. Cabanilla believes that it is not timely to implement a hike in power while the country is suffering from financial crisis.

Porferio Montesclaros of MEPZCEM Chamber Incorporated from the industrial sector meanwhile has also submitted its opposition. He said that the industrial sector is intensely opposing the increase since most of their companies are greatly affected by the global financial crisis. He said that most of the companies are not operating fully just to cut production costs.

Montesclaros said that if the increase will be approved, they will suffer. He said that with the present rate of power in Cebu, one company under MEPZ normally has an electric bill amounting to more or less P10 million per month. With the current economic situation, a company could hardly pay the amount, even more if the increase will be implemented.

ERC Commissioner Raul Tan meanwhile said that on Friday, PSALM and NPC will present its respective evidence on the need to increase the power rate.

“We will make sure that the consumers will win this, because the most expensive electricity is having no electricity at all,” said Tan.

as of 03/19/2009 11:30 PM

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