Power rate discounts exclusively for marginalized consumers pushed

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 1) — A Senate joint panel is seeking ways to extend the provision of lifeline rates to subsidize power consumption, only this time, it should exclusively benefit marginalized consumers.

The Senate Committee on Energy joint with the Committee on Public Services tackled Tuesday Senate Bill 1583 which seeks to extend lifeline rates up to 2041 to help out low income electricity consumers.

A lifeline rate is a subsidized rate given to low income users consuming electricity below 100 kilowatt-hours (kWh) who cannot afford to pay their bills at full cost. The Republic Act 9136 or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) of 2001 covers this scheme, which was initially allowed for 20 years, or up to 2021 only.

However, the joint panel raised the need to provide a mechanism for a more accurate targeting of beneficiaries if the scheme will be extended, following certain loopholes in the current policy.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, who presided the hearing, called out the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and the Department of Energy (DOE) for inaction on reports that even consumers owning condominiums and rest houses have also benefitted from the subsidy over the past 20 years.

He said that ₱1.6-billion worth of subsidies have been given annually, but at least 33 percent of households were given discounts in 2018 alone, even when the poverty incidence in the country was only at 12 percent at the time.

Gatchalian bared that there were leakages amounting to ₱937 million which covered the non-marginalized consumers.

"Condo units are getting subsidies and these are not marginalized end users. These are from condominiums, some of them are rest houses or condominiums that are owned by well-off families and well-off consumers," the senator said.

Senator Risa Hontiveros recommended that households under government programs such as the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program should be included in the lifeline scheme.

The lawmakers also pointed out lapses on the cross-subsidy system which serves as the source of funding of the lifeline rates. This means that other end users such as middle-income consumers have been subsidizing the lifeline rates worth ₱0.0604 per kWh for the past 20 years.

"It's very disheartening that every centavo that you earn is not going to the people that we intend to help over the last 20 years," Gatchalian noted.

Laban Konsyumer chief Vic Dimagiba suggested that subsidies for lifeline rates must come from the national government, instead of the consumers.

The DOE, ERC, and utility distributors were urged to submit their other proposals on other provisionary amendments to the measure prior to the next Senate hearing.