By Ben Rosario
Over P46 billion in financial obligations to the government may soon be settled by five power generation firms whose representatives made the assurance to congressmen on Wednesday.
The latest to commit payment of its obligation, albeit partially, is the South Premier Power Corp. (SPPC), a subsidiary of food and beverage giant San Miguel Corporation (SMC).
The energy firms pledged to pay their respective obligations to the state-owned Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management (PSALM) Corporation in the congressional hearing on the issue jointly conducted by the House committees on public accounts and on good government.
Anakalusugan Rep. Michael Defensor, chairperson of the public accounts panel, welcomed the new development which will address Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano’s bid to raise at least P40 billion for the national government.
Defensor said the money will help government finance much-needed programs that will help the country combat the spread of COVID-19.
SPPC has reportedly offered to pay in advance its obligations for administering a 1,200-megawatt power plant in Batangas.
“We will study it,” lawyer Irene Garcia, who is PSALM president and CEO, told the congressional hearing.
Garcia said acceptance of the offer will be without prejudice to pursuing its previous billings to SPPC amounting to P23.9 billion, which the SMC subsidiary had contested in a complaint filed with the Mandaluyong regional trial court more than five years ago.
The two committees are looking into P95.4 billion in debt owed by big energy sector companies and cooperatives to PSALM, including the nearly P24 billion owed by SPPC.
“We can use the money to augment the funds of the Department of Health and government hospitals in containing the spread of the coronavirus disease and in treating patients,” Defensor said.
In Wednesday’s hearing, the SMC subsidiary formally presented its offer to advance its monthly payments totaling P22.6 billion up to June 2022 for administering the Batangas power plant.
SMC announced the offer in the media a day ahead of the inquiry.
In the hearing, some congressmen urged SMC-SPPC and PSALM to agree on a compromise for the P23.9 billion in previous billings. But both sides said they would just await the Mandaluyong court’s ruling on the SPPC complaint.
Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso, who chairs the committee on justice, reiterated his stand that under Republic Act No. 9136, or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001, courts lower than the Court of Appeals have no jurisdiction on disputes involving power rates and energy industry players.
The law gives the Energy Regulatory Commission the “original and exclusive authority” to resolve such disputes, Veloso said.