“Sa Kongreso kayo magpaliwanag. (Explain to Congress).”

This was the message addressed to the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp (PSALM) by two of the largest electric cooperative (EC) groups in the country, which criticized PSALM last week for passing the burden of its ballooning debts on interest charges to consumers in the form of power rate hikes.

Both the Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (PHILRECA) and the National Association of General Managers of Electric Cooperatives (NAGMEC) disputed PSALM’s explanations regarding its liabilities as the groups also pointed to a lack of transparency in PSALM’s asset management, lack of innovation in the performance of its mandates and being contented with periodic Universal Charge hikes to cushion its debts.

The two EC groups also urged the Joint Congressional Power Commission (JCPC)––an oversight committee created under the Electric Power Industry Act (EPIRA) tasked to look into the privatization of the power sector––to convene at the soonest possible time and examine PSALM’s books and its management practices, specifically to look into terms of reference and manner of sale of assets under PSALM’s management.

The JCPC is jointly chaired by the chairpersons of the energy committees in both Houses of Congress.

In a statement issued last Thursday regarding PHILRECA and NAGMEC’s disclosures, PSALM CEO Irene Joy Garcia clarified that the power agency was not blaming the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) for its slow pace in approving petitions for rate increases.

Garcia explained that it was not accurate for the EC groups to state that PSALM had “ballooning debts,” citing figures to support her claims.

NAGMEC President Sergio Dagooc, however, disputed PSALM’s contentions anew, saying that on the contrary, “PSALM’s payables are ballooning because of the imposed interest on top of the principal amount of the obligation.”

“The scary thing is that the Filipino consumer is paying for that debt because it’s being passed on to us in the form of Stranded Costs in our electricity bill.”

“They just revealed that PSALM’s debt was already at P1.2 trillion in 2003. It’s already 2018. Fifteen years later, how much is the debt? The scary thing is that the Filipino consumer is paying for that debt because it’s being passed on to us in the form of Stranded Costs in our electricity bill,” said Dagooc.

Dagooc added that “the more PSALM contends that they were able to privatize P545.3 billion of their P918.5 billion worth of their assets­­––and that only 41 percent remains––the more there is a reason for JCPC to look into the manner of privatization and fund utilization. How much of the P545.3 billion was actually used to pay debts?”

For his part, PHILRECA President Presley De Jesus pointed to the urgency of digging into PSALM’s debts despite its dismissive attitude when confronted with the issue.

“Okay lang sa kanila ito dahil passable ang utang nila sa consumers. PSALM was seeking an increase from 30 centavos to 86 centavos per KwH as reported during the recent Senate hearing. Sobrang taas na nyan,” lamented De Jesus.

“Hindi naman PSALM ang humaharap sa tao. Alalahanin ninyo, kaming mga electric coops ang pinapakolekta ng dagdag singil sa kuryente habang ang mga opisyal ng PSALM kampante lang sa mga opisina nila. Hanggang kami ang inyong pinapakulekta, kami ang tampulan ng reklamo. Sa ECs ang bunton ng galit ng taong bayan,” De Jesus added.

(It’s not PSALM which faces the people. It’s the ECs that collect these rate increases while PSALM officials stay relaxed in their offices. We are the direct recipient of consumer complaints. ECs bear the brunt of people’s angers and frustrations.)

NAGMEC’s Dagooc emphasized that the JCPC was the best forum to discuss their groups’ and the government power body’s varying positions even as he challenged PSALM to “once and for all, lay your cards before the JCPC.”

De Jesus, meanwhile, chided PSALM for its continued policy of passing the bulk of its debt burden to the Filipino electricity consumer.

“How much of the P545.3 billion was actually used to pay debts?”

“Ikakakatuwa ba dapat natin ang pagmamalaki ng PSALM na diumano’y P450 billion na lang ang bayarin nila? Habambuhay na lang ba babayaran ng mga consumers ang Stranded Costs sa billing nila habang mabagal ang pagbayad ng ahensiya ng gobyerno sa utang nila? Pahaba ng pahaba ang paghihirap ng mga tao,” said the PHILRECA head.

(Should we be happy that PSALM boasts that it has cut its payable to 450 billion pesos? Will consumers pay Stranded Costs in their electricity bills forever while the government agency takes too long to pay its debts? The litany of sufferings of the people grows longer.)

 

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