More technical people please, not commissioners.
This, in a nutshell, was Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) Chairperson Agnes Devanadera’s appeal to the House Committee on Energy Friday as the panel endeavored to pass in a virtual hearing a substitute bill that seeks to strengthen the ERC by tweaking its bureaucracy.
The particular measure is a House Bill (HB) Nos. 2099 and 2427, authored by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco and Quezon City 5th District Rep. Alfred Vargas, respectively.
Among the purposes of the measure is to speed up work at the regulatory body, including but not limited to the approval of Capital Expenditure (Capex) applications from distribution utilities as well as important resolutions.
During the hearing, members of the so-called “Power bloc” in the House namely RECOBODA Party-List Rep. Fred Guya, APEC Party-List Rep. Sergio Dagooc, and Ako Padayon Pilipino Party-List Rep. Adriano Ebcas lamented over the slow pace of these issuances from ERC.
“The bottleneck is really at the technical level, not at the commissioners’ level,” Devanadera responded.
“So you need technical people more than (additional) commissioners?” presiding officer and Pampanga 2nd District Rep. Mikey Arroyo asked Devanadera, to which the latter answered, “Yun sana po (Hopefully, yes).”
“Mahirap po talaga (It’s really difficult). I wish the increase in the number of commissioners would increase the pace. But if there are less technical people to do the evaluation of applications, mahirap po (it will be difficult),” explained the ERC chief.
By “technical people,” Devanadera was referring to engineers, lawyers, and finance officers, among others. She bared to the panel that ERC employs only 12 engineers and that they’re unable to hire more due to lack of available plantilla positions.
“I hope we can get more plantila positions and funding so that we can double the pace,” she told Arroyo, senior vice chairman of the committee.
However, there was some pushback against Devanadera’s insinuations that the ERC need not increase its commissioners. There are currently five commissioners, including Devanadera herself.
“I disagree that ERC doesn’t need more commissioners,” Dagooc said. On the other hand, Guya underscored that no less than Speaker Velasco is pushing to add four more commissioners to the agency’s roster, for a grand total of nine commissioners.
Guya said this would allow the ERC to create one division of three commissioners each for Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. This set-up is akin to the Supreme Court, he noted.
At any rate, the RECOBODA solon said that Devanadera had already agreed to a compromise of adding two more commissioners (for a total of seven) during a previous hearing of the panel in November, 2019. Velasco was yet to assume the speakership at that time and was instead serving as Energy panel chairman.
“We submit to the wisdom of the panel,” Devanadera said of the increase in the number of commissioners. “Pero huwag masyado madami (But not too many).”
Devanadera warned that adding more commissioners might slow down the release of decisions and resolutions since the document has to be perused and signed by everybody. “EPIRA (Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001) says ERC is a collegial body, everybody has to sign,” she said.
Arroyo said the panel will decide on the matter in two weeks’ time, or just before the resumption of House sessions on November 16.