Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Amending the EPIRA


It is no coincidence that an energy nightmare besets the provinces of Camarines Sur, Albay, and Sorsogon simultaneously. Likewise, it is no fluke that a similar problem beleaguers the National Capital Region at the exact same time. These are interconnected incidents that expose the ugly, intrinsic flaws of our current power system.

Much of the problems can be traced to Republic Act No. 9136, or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA). Approved in 2001, the law had a set of noble purposes. It sought to “restructure the electric power industry and allow for the transition of the nation to a competitive structure.” Its aims were to “ensure and accelerate the total electrification of the country; ensure the quality, reliability, security, and affordability of the supply of electric power; and to guarantee transparent and reasonable prices of electricity in a regime of free and fair competition,” among others.

On paper, the law seems ideal. It poses to be the solution to a long-standing monopoly and market abuse in the Philippine power industry. It was, supposedly, an answered prayer for Filipinos who had been slaves of the power industry cartel for numerous years.

Twelve years of implementing the law, however, are enough to let its cracks show. As the energy issue so glaringly manifests, the safeguards that the EPIRA enforces fail utterly at dismantling the power cartel, promoting market competition, and protecting consumers from skyrocketing power rates. Rather, the loopholes embedded in the law allow for independent power producers, for instance, to concurrently shut down and force cooperatives to purchase power from pricier sources.

This leaves us, the consumers, miserably powerless—pun intended—against the issue.

Our first impulse, understandably, is to blame the electric cooperatives. After all, they seem to be the easy and reasonably logical culprit, having passed the burden of the price hike to us.
But once we are past the initial stage of shock, we must advance to a deeper analysis. This would allow us to view the problem as systemic and part of a complex dilemma. The problem plagues not only our local cooperatives, but also many others across the nation. Ultimately, this mindset would help us direct our action towards the proper avenues which could rectify the situation.

The fault, this analysis would reveal, truly lies in both the flawed law, as well as the State: the former for permitting loopholes, and the latter for failing to regulate the power industry, which is imbued with public interest.

Thus, the order of the day should be a well-defined political will to review and amend the EPIRA and prevent similar crises in the future.
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