Coal-affected communities decry CA TRO on ERC Commissioners suspensions

P4P: “CA decision will cost decades of unfair prices, environmental and health impacts”

Members of the nationwide Power for People (P4P) Coalition expressed dismay over the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Court of Appeals (CA), lifting the suspension of the four Energy Regulatory Commissioners (ERC) Commissioners suspended last December.

Commissioners Alfredo Non, Gloria Victoria Yap-Taruc, Josefina Patricia Asirit, and Geronimo Sta. Ana were suspended by the Ombudsman after exempting Meralco and other firms from the mandated competitive selection process (CSP) which will subject their power supply agreements (PSAs) to a public bidding.

“After the ERC Commissioners were found to have colluded with Meralco so that their ‘sweetheart deals’ with their sister coal generation companies will push through, the CA cited ‘grave and irreparable injury’ for the part of the four commissioners suspended as a reason to issue a TRO in their favor,” recounted Sanlakas Secretary-General Atty. Aaron Pedrosa, convenor of the P4P Coalition.

“They spoke nothing of the grave and irreparable injury to be suffered by Meralco’s 19 million customers, and the communities who will be primarily affected ones the coal-fired power plants pertained to in the agreements are greenlit,” Pedrosa added.

Pedrosa, who also filed an Ombudsman case against the Commissioners, explained that the lifting of the suspension will enable the Commissioners to decide in favor of the questionable “sweetheart deals”: the main reason why the Commissioners were suspended in the first place. “This 60-day TRO lifting the suspension may cost consumers and citizens at least 20 years of dirtier and costlier energy from coal,” warned Pedrosa.

“Nilalagay sa peligro ng Korte and mga komunidad na magiging biktima ng mga maduduming planta ng coal dahil sa pagbabalik nila ng kapangyarihan sa mga sinuspendeng Komisyoner,” said Cris Palabay of Save the Beauty of La Union. Their organization is currently resisting the efforts of Global Luzon Energy Development Corp., a subsidiary of GBPC, which is set to build two 335-MW coal-fired power generating facility in Brgy. Luna, La Union if the PSAs push through.

“Kung kailangan ng kahalili ng mga mga Komisyoner, napakadali lang dapat palitan ng Malacanang ang mga ito kaysa pahintulutan sa kabila ng katiwalian nila,” Palabay added.

Failure to suspend ERC officials – a question to Duterte admin’s commitment
“The failure in implementing the Ombudsman’s decision strikes at the very heart of the administration’s commitment to the environment and to combat corruption in his administration,” said Vin Buenaagua, Research, Policy and Advocacy Head for the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED).

“The inclusion of the coal tax in the TRAIN Law is in effect an admission by the government of the true cost of coal use to our environment and the affected communities, yet such an admission means nothing if we will continue to let more coal in our energy mix,” Buenaagua explained. “With the rising costs of coal in the global market and the insistence of local players to be exempt from regulation to pursue coal investments, the only thing standing in the way of environmental destruction and the consumer’s right to an accessible, affordable, proper system is a governance framework which puts People at its center,” he concluded.

P4P Convenor Erwin Puhawan of the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) stated that the CA acted against the interests of the consumers in lifting the suspensions. “Even after Malacanang has ordered ERC Chair Devanadera to implement the suspension, the President has failed to name replacements for the suspended ERC Commissioners, enabling the ERC to say that ‘public service’ will suffer if the allegedly corrupt officials would not stay in their posts,” said Puhawan.

“Who else can the consumer trust in protecting their interest?” he asked. “If the Commissioners succeed in deciding on the contracts in favor of their favored companies, the Duterte government would once again have failed in proving its sincerity in stopping corruption in the government,” Puhawan added.

“The decision to lift the suspension as it allegedly will ‘impair public service’ is totally misplaced since the basis of the Comissioners’ suspension by the Ombudsman is the undue advantage they have provided to MERALCO by not implementing what is in the law,” said Ian Rivera, National Coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice.

“By this very scandalous act of the CA, it is asserting that the interest of a faulty contract is supreme than the interest of the public who will be burdened with high electricity prices and the environmental and health impacts of these coal plants. This is a horrible miscarriage of justice of the highest degree,” Rivera added.