Senate to keep power, fuel prices in check

Published January 18, 2018, 12:09 AM

by Mario Casayuran and Vanne Elaine Terrazola

By Mario B. Casayuran

The Senate Committee on Energy will conduct a public hearing into the existing inventories of coal and oil to prevent premature increases in electricity and fuel prices as a result of the new excise tax rates imposed by Republic Act (RA) 10963, known as the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Act.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, committee chairman, sought the inquiry through Senate Resolution 581 he filed on Wednesday.

Gatchalian said the inquiry was meant to ensure that consumers are not being made to pay higher prices on old fuel and coal stocks that are not covered by the new excise taxes.

He noted that Department of Energy (DOE) circulars have required oil-based generation companies, oil companies, and bulk suppliers and refiners to maintain a minimum 15 to 30-day inventory of in-country stock of petroleum products and fuels, while coal power plants must maintain a minimum 30-day coal running inventory.

Gatchalian said the legislative inquiry was necessary to monitor and evaluate electricity and fuel prices, as well as DOE’s efforts to prevent and deter possible abuses in the form of premature increases in generation charges and pump prices.

Increases in electricity and fuel prices should only take effect once these old reserves have been depleted and new inventories, which should have entered the country after January 1, 2018, are already being used, the circulars stated.

“Unfortunately, the increases in excise taxes on coal and fuel present the perfect opportunity for stealthy price gouging, because consumers are already expecting prices to increase anyway,” he said.

“This hearing will help protect the hard-earned money of consumers from unscrupulous individuals who are trying to charge them too much, too soon for fuel and electricity,” he added.

The senator noted that although DOE has issued guidelines to monitor oil reserve levels, similar guidelines for coal stocks have yet to be issued.