Former speaker and EPIRA principal author Fuentebella passes away at 74

Published September 9, 2020, 12:35 PM

by Myrna M. Velasco

Former House Speaker and principal author of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) Arnulfo “Noli” P. Fuentebella passed away on September 9 due to lingering illnesses, his family confirmed. He was 74.

Arnulfo “Noli” P. Fuentebella
(Arnie Buquid Fuentebella / MANILA BULLETIN)

Camarines Sur Arnulf Bryan “Arnie” Fuentebella, in a social media post, announced the demise of the former speaker of the House of Representatives.

The sad news was also confirmed by his other son, Department of Energy (DOE) Undersecretary Felix William B. Fuentebella.

“With deep sorrow, we would like to inform our family and friends that former Speaker Arnulfo “Noli” P. Fuentebella has passed away this morning (September 9),” the lawmaker said.

He added that the elder Fuentebella “succumbed to heart failure after battling kidney disease for almost two years.”

The family requested for prayers “for his final journey back Home.” Details of necrological services shall be announced in the following days.

Aside from his stint at the House of Representatives’ top leadership, his long years of service as congressman of Camarines Sur, and his career life as a lawyer, one of the landmark achievements of Fuentebella was his authorship of the EPIRA, a turning point law that was passed in June 2001 which then paved the way for the restructuring of the country’s electricity sector.

While propounded legislation on the long-proposed privatization and liberalization of the power industry failed to make it through the maze of three Congresses prior to his time as chairman of the House Committee on Energy, he made sure during his turn at the body that the measure would finally be enacted.

Fuentebella and other key lawmakers studied the privatization pathway for state-run National Power Corporation (NPC) “with great caution and thoroughness” by looking at the experiences of other deregulated electricity markets all over the world – and that earned him the respect and regard of the industry as the “father and prime mover of the power industry’s deregulation and restructuring.”

His energy committee at that time judiciously consulted with all affected stakeholders – listening to both sides of the spectrum – whether they are pro or against the power industry restructuring bill.

The EPIRA is a legislative piece that until today is considered unmatched in the energy sector – and the leadership he had shown during his time at the Energy Committee ensured not just the passage of the law; but it also guaranteed that the provisions are feasible for implementation through the years.

Even the design of the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) had to undergo fine-tuning prior to the law’s final deliberations and eventual passage because of the California’s power market experience then – primarily the excessive market exposure of some players that triggered their bankruptcies, the State’s missteps in energy planning that then led to its worst nightmare of blackouts.

The EPIRA will be on its 20th year of implementation next year and while it is not exactly a perfect law, it was able to advance milestone achievements – primarily the privatization of the government-owned power assets; and it had also extended benefits to Filipino consumers; including lifeline discounts for marginalized end-users’ and the “power of choice” that some segments of electricity consumers are now enjoying when it comes to sourcing and patronizing preferred power providers.