Bill tapping Malampaya fund to pay down Napocor debt hurdles bicameral session

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Malampaya gas field

LEGISLATORS on Thursday approved in a bicameral session a bill, which seeks to use the government’s share in the Malampaya Natural Gas Project to pay off the obligations of the National Power Corp. (Napocor).

Representatives of both chambers agreed to allocate P208 billion of the net national government share in the Malampaya fund to pay off Napocor’s stranded contract cost and stranded debt. The two items form part of the universal charge imposed on consumers in the electricity bill.

House Bill No. 8869, or the so-called “Murang Kuryente” (cheap power) bill, proposed a P123-billion allocation, while Senate Bill No. 1950 proposed to use the entire government share of the Malampaya fund, without specifying amount.

The P208 billion was based on the computations made by the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM) to cover the shortfall in Napocor obligations.

“With P208 billion, we will be able to cover the entire shortfall and there will be no other UC petition that PSALM will be filing with the ERC (Energy Regulatory Commission),” PSALM President and Chief Executive officer Irene Joy B. Garcia said during the bicameral conference committee hearing.

The bill, if enacted, is expected to reduce electricity rates. Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian, chair of the Senate committee on energy, estimated that consumers would save nearly P1 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) off their electric bill, which translates to savings of P170 for an average of 200 kWh consumption per month.

“We’re really hoping that the President signs this and he sees that this bill would benefit our consumers and the entire country. If businesses can save (electricity costs), they will get more workers and many will be employed,” he told reporters after the hearing.

The measure also allows the remainder of the government’s share of the Malampaya fund to be used for energy-related projects as prescribed under Presidential Decree No. 910, such as energy exploration.

“We want the bill to earmark the available funds and what we can earn through the years can be used by the DoE (Department of Energy) or by the government for other energy-related projects. Specifically, the committee wants (energy) exploration,” Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Q. Velasco, who also chairs the House committee on energy, told reporters after the hearing.

“We want to continue Malampaya although we know it would deplete somewhere in the 2025 to 2029 period, so we want to look for other sources that can generate the same income for the country,” he added. — Camille A. Aguinaldo