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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Epira under fire: Can Romualdez deliver affordable power?

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“The quest to reform the Epira law is a high-stakes game that could redefine the economic and social landscape of the Philippines”

IT’S a sweltering summer day in Manila, where the city’s power dynamics are once again under the microscope.

Speaker Martin Romualdez has embarked on an ambitious mission to overhaul the Electric Power Industry Regulation Act (Epira), a law once the beacon of hope for affordable and reliable electricity but has now become a source of economic stagnation and public ire.

Epira Law: Its lasting impact

Enacted in 2001, the Epira law was designed to deregulate and liberalize the Philippine electric power industry, promoting competition and attracting private sector investments.

Its primary goal was to reduce electricity costs, improve efficiency, and ensure a stable power supply.

Yet, more than two decades later, electricity rates in the Philippines remain some of the highest in Asia, crippling both consumers and businesses alike.

The initial promise of Epira was to break up monopolies and encourage a competitive market, but what emerged was a fragmented and often inefficient power sector.

Despite the privatization of power generation and the establishment of the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market, high electricity rates have persisted, leading to widespread discontent.

Romualdez’s proactive strategy

Speaker Romualdez has called for a comprehensive review of the Epira law, a decision that has garnered significant support from his fellow lawmakers.

Senior Deputy Speaker Aurelio Gonzales Jr., Deputy Speaker David Suarez, and House Majority Leader Manuel Jose “Mannix” Dalipe, among others, have rallied behind Romualdez, seeing this as a potential legacy-defining moment.

Romualdez’s initiative comes at a critical juncture.

The Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council has prioritized the passage of key bills, including the Epira amendments, before the end of the 19th Congress in June 2025.

The timing is also strategic as Congress deliberates on the renewal of the Manila Electric Company’s franchise.

This presents a unique opportunity to press Meralco for commitments to lower power distribution rates.

Case for Romualdez’s initiative

From an economic perspective, reducing electricity costs could unleash a wave of economic growth.

High power rates have long been a thorn in the side of the business community, hindering expansion and deterring foreign investments.

By lowering electricity costs, the Philippines could become a more attractive destination for business, fostering job creation and boosting overall economic productivity.

Socially, lower electricity costs would alleviate the financial burden on millions of Filipino households.

In a country where many struggle to make ends meet, affordable electricity is not just a matter of convenience but a critical component of living standards.

Romualdez’s initiative is thus a potential game-changer for both the economy and the everyday lives of Filipinos.

However, the path to reform is fraught with challenges.

Deregulating the power sector further or imposing new regulations could lead to unintended consequences, such as market instability or even higher prices if not managed correctly.

There is also the risk of resistance from powerful stakeholders in the energy sector who benefit from the status quo.

Moreover, the process of legislative reform is inherently slow and contentious.

Ensuring that the revised Epira law is robust enough to address the current issues without creating new ones requires meticulous scrutiny and bipartisan support, which can be difficult to secure.

Romualdez’s vision, initiative

Despite these potential hurdles, Romualdez’s courage and vision deserve commendation.

His willingness to confront a long-standing issue head-on is a testament to his commitment to public service.

By spearheading this initiative, Romualdez is not only challenging the power dynamics within the energy sector but also seeking to fulfill the unkept promises of Epira for the benefit of the Filipino people.

Strategic Suggestions

To navigate the complexities of this reform, it is essential that Romualdez and his colleagues pursue a multi-pronged strategy:

Inclusive Stakeholder Engagement: Engage with all relevant stakeholders, including power companies, consumer groups, and experts, to ensure a well-rounded and effective legislative overhaul.

Incremental Reforms: Instead of sweeping changes, consider phased reforms to monitor impacts and make necessary adjustments, thereby minimizing risks.

Strengthening Regulatory Framework: Enhance the capacity and independence of regulatory bodies to ensure that new regulations are effectively enforced.

Public Awareness Campaigns: Educate the public on the benefits and implications of the reforms to garner widespread support and understanding.

The quest to reform the Epira law is a high-stakes game that could redefine the economic and social landscape of the Philippines.

Romualdez’s initiative, while ambitious, is a critical step toward a more equitable and prosperous future.

The suspense now lies in whether these reforms will finally deliver the promise of affordable electricity or become yet another chapter in the long history of unmet expectations.

The clock is ticking, and all eyes are on Romualdez and his allies as they navigate this complex and contentious terrain.

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