Lord’s bill regulating natural gas industry moves forward at House

Published November 13, 2020, 5:20 PM

by Ellson Quismorio

One of Speaker Lord Allan Velasco’s pet measures on the local energy industry is moving forward in the House of Representatives.


Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo, senior vice chairman of the Committee on Energy, promised in a virtual hearing Friday to pass House Bill  No.3031 once the technical working group carries out at least two meetings with the concerned stakeholders in the downstream natural gas sector.

The measure is titled “An act ordaining the development of the downstream natural gas industry, consolidating for the purpose all laws relating to the transmission, distribution, and supply of natural gas.”

“In a couple of hearings ipasa na natin (let’s pass it), let’s include everybody already in the TWG,” said presiding officer Arroyo, who is rumored to take over Velasco’s post as Energy panel chairman. The Marinduque lawmaker assumed the Speakership last Oct. 13.

Attending the hearing was Velasco’s co-author, Deputy Majority Leader and Zamboanga Sibugay Rep. Wilter “Sharky” Wee Palma II. He explained to his colleagues the need for such measure, particularly how it relates to Presidential Decree (PD) No.87 or the Oil Exploration and Development Act of 1972.

“Kaya po ginawa natin ang bill na ‘to para magkaroon ng regulation ang natural gas sector (We authored this bill in order to regulate the natural gas sector). The purpose of PD No.87 is only to promote the discovery and production of indigenous petroleum and appropriate funds therefore. Petroleum does not include natural gas,” he noted.

Palma said that while the 1972 law mentions  natural gas, it is only in the form of hydrocarbons. “But there are also other states of natural gas, not just hydrocarbons. There are a lot of components when we speak of natural gas.”

“In a way it (HB No.3031) is an amendment to PD 87 but it is in no way a repeal because PD 87 pertains to petroleum products in general,” he added.
It was stressed during the hearing that the Velasco-Palma measure would cover the downstream phase of natural gas, which is the phase that affects the end users or the consumers. The upstream phase, which the bill doesn’t touch, refers to identification, extraction, and production of the fuel (in this case gas).

RECOBODA party-list Rep. Fred Guya questioned why the bill needed a confidentiality clause.

“This is related sa impact nito sa tao. ‘Yung confidentiality clause na ‘yan, katulad nung tinatawag na ‘trade secret,’ bakit natin kailangang ilagay sa batas ‘yan? (This is related to its impact on the people. That confidentiality clause, which include the so-called ‘trade secrets,’ why do we need to include that in the law?)” he said.

House Deputy Minority Leader Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate said Guya’s concern was valid and used the confidentiality provision in Republic Act  No.8479 or the Downstream Oil Industry Deregulation Act of 1998 to give additional context.

“It has been our advocacy before na dapat transparent nga. After naglabas ang DoE ng Department Order na i-unbundle ‘yung pricing ng oil products, this was TRO’d by oil companies (There should be transparency. After the Department of Energy issued a Department Order to unbundle the pricing of oil products, oil companies sought a temporary restraining order on it),” he noted.

“Pumunta sila sa court dahil ininvoke nila yung provision na ‘this pricing is part of our trade secrets, this will hamper our competition (They went to court and invoke the provision that ‘this pricing is part of our trade secrets, this will hamper our competition).’ It’s good that we discuss this now to be clear that such a provision won’t be used in the larger interest of our end users or consumers,” added Zarate, a longtime advocate of fair fuel pricing.

Arroyo said his colleagues shouldn’t worry since the bill would still be perused by the panel and subsequently by the 301-member plenary.

“It’s not only us that will approve this. We will bring this to the floor for votation and I’m sure the members will reject any bill that would run against the interest of consumers,” he said.