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House panels raise P23.4B from power firms in hearing

Two committees of the House of Representatives have effectively raised more than P23 billion for the national coffers in just one hearing by getting four power producers to commit to pay their financial obligations to the government soon.

The four made the commitment on Wednesday in the course of a hearing conducted by the committee on public accounts and the committee on good government and public accountability on P95.4 billion the state-owned Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. has been trying to collect from electric cooperatives and companies for years.

The four are Meralco, which owes PSALM P15 billion; Northern Renewables Generation Corp., which has P4.6 billion in outstanding debt to the state corporation; FDC (Filinvest Development Corp.) Misamis Power Corp., P2.6 billion; and FDC Utilities, Inc., P1.2 billion.

According to PSALM, these companies have a combined accumulated debt amounting to P23.4 billion for electricity and power plants bought from the government, or for managing generation assets.

PSALM is the agency tasked by Congress under the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 to sell the assets of the defunct National Power Corp.

“We got responsible officials of the four corporations to promise to pay their debt, which they have acknowledged. We will hold them to their commitment,” Rep. Mike Defensor of Anakalusugan, who chairs the committee on public accounts, said Thursday.

He said the House did not have to approve bills imposing new taxes to raise P23.4 billion.

In the case of Meralco, Defensor said the two committees learned that the power distributor and PSALM had agreed years back on a P15-billion settlement, but that the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) opposed the agreement because it was not involved in it as the lawyer of the government and its agencies.

The case has been pending with the Supreme Court.

“Once the OSG withdraws its opposition, the government can collect P15 billion from Meralco,” Defensor said.

Based on a PSALM report submitted to the two committees, South Premier Power Corp. (SPPC), a subsidiary of San Miguel Corp. (SMC), owes the government P23.9 billion.

The SMC affiliate is contesting the PSALM billing in a case filed with a Mandaluyong City regional trial court.

The public accounts committee and the committee on good government chaired by Bulacan Rep. Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado have asked other business establishments with financial obligations to the government to explain their debt.

These include Independent Electricity Market Operation of the Philippines, which owes P8 billion; Good Friends Hydropower Resources Corp., P1.2 billion; National Grid Corp. of the Philippines, P548 million; and First Gen Hydro Power Corp., P315 million.Two committees of the House of Representatives have effectively raised more than P23 billion for the national coffers in just one hearing by getting four power producers to commit to pay their financial obligations to the government 

This developed as lawmakers have questioned the mandate of a joint committee in the House of Representatives to deliberate on measures that are not in the realm of their separate jurisdictions.

Reps. Presley de Jesus of Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association) partylist, 

Deputy Speakers Johnny Pimentel of Surigao del Sur and and Prospero Pichay of Surigao del Sur questioned the House Committees on Public Accounts and  Good Government and Public Accountability for jointly hearing issues pertaining to energy.

“It was the Committee on Rules which referred the issue to us,” Defensor said during the hearing.  Defensor explained that it was the decision or wisdom of the Committee on Rules.  Thus they cannot question the referral. A former lawmaker who was present in the hearing said “politics” is behind the seeming misreferral of the resolution.

The joint hearing continued on the issues of PSALM’s (Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation) collectibles and about the contracts entered into by independent power producers with the agency despite these being reported earlier by PSALM President and Chief operting Officer, lawyer Irene   Besido- Garcia.

“We have reported the same to the Energy Committee...and as we mentioned in the previous meeting, a substantial portion of the receivables are still under litigation, hence we cannot really do much about it because of  the TROs, etc,” Garcia said.

Topics: Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association , House of Representatives , Northern Renewables Generation Corp , South Premier Power Corp
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