By Mario Casayuran
Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian filed this week a bill seeking the creation of an independent energy watchdog that would ensure consumer protection and enhance the competitive operation of the electricity industry.
Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate energy committee, said his measure, Senate Bill (SB) 2222, seeks to create the Energy Consumer Advocate Office (ECAO), which will represent consumers in all rate-setting, rule-making, and other energy related cases and proceedings before government agencies, including judicial and quasi-judicial bodies.
Gatchalian said the bill is designed to institutionalize independent consumer representation in the energy sector, given the glaring lack of representation for consumers in cases filed before the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).
“The state must recognize the right of energy consumers to reasonable rates, adequate and reliable services, and transparent processes involving these rates and services,” he said.
“Towards this end, there is a need for institutionalized and independent consumer representation in energy-related cases and proceedings before government agencies,’’ he explained.
Republic Act 9136, known as the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA), mandates the ERC to set performance standards and retail rates in the energy sector, allow the recovery of just and reasonable costs as well as reasonable return, and ensure consumer protection.
Under SB 2222, the ECAO is tasked with representing consumers in energy sector matters affecting the public interest before any department, commission, agency, or court.
Headed by the Energy Consumer Advocate (ECA), the ECAO shall be an independent and autonomous office attached to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Moreover, the measure prohibits the ECA and Deputy ECA from serving as members of the board or as officers, employees, or consultants of any energy company, and from having any interest, ownership, or stake in any energy company during their term of office to ensure their independence. They are also enjoined from being members of a political party or committee and from engaging in partisan political activity.
“The creation of the ECAO aims to attain what jurisdictions with an institutionalized consumer advocate have, such as the postponement of utilities’ rate increase applications, a decrease in the income of utilities, and lower electricity retail prices,” Gatchalian said.