Class suit mulled vs NGCP as congressional probe looms

A resident tries to get shuteye at Jaro Plaza in Iloilo City at the height of the 4-day power blackout in Panay last week. (Arnold Almacen/CMO photo)

By Rjay Zuriaga Castor

The Senate and the House of Representatives are set to commence their inquiry starting this week on the power outage that once again struck Panay Island in the first week of January.

The Senate investigation will start on Wednesday, January 10, while that of the lower house is scheduled to start on Thursday, January 11.

In the lower house, the investigation was prompted by the resolutions filed by Representatives Raul Tupas, Julienne Baronda, Michael Gorriceta, Francisco Benitez, Lorenz Defensor, James Ang Jr., Dan Fernandez, Raoul Manuel, Arlene Brosas, and France Castro.

According to House rules, resolutions are only referred to respective committees during a plenary session. However, the 19th Congress is currently adjourned and is set to resume on January 23.

This implies that the committee meeting on Thursday will be the second deliberation on three House Resolutions (HR) submitted by the lawmakers last year to the panel chaired by Rep. Lord Allan Velasco (Lone District, Marinduque).

The three resolutions, namely HRs No. 933, 934, and 944, sought an investigation into the power outages that transpired for three consecutive days in the islands of Panay, Guimaras, and Negros in April of the previous year.

Despite the congressional break, Baronda said they decided to continue the hearing on the previous power outage affecting Western Visayas and to include the recent incident on the agenda.

“Nagdihon kita sang resolusyon nga nagaduso sang imbestigasyon sa sining panibag-o nga ligom-dulom kag ginapapirmahan na sa mga kaupod naton nga mga llonggo nga Kongresista, apang tungod wala sang sesyon ang Kongreso subong, ginpakamaayo nga padayunon anay ang pagangusisa sa nagluntad nga power blackout sang Abril 2023, nga nasulit naman subong nga imbukada sang tuig,” she said in a statement.

[We passed a resolution pushing for an investigation into this recent crisis, and it has been signed by our fellow Ilonggo lawmakers. However, due to the current congressional recess, we opted to resume the inquiry into the power blackout in April 2023, which hit us again this year.]

Baronda stressed that, under these circumstances, the government could trace back and conduct a more in-depth investigation into the power outage that occurred within an 8-month interval.

The congressional inquiry on Thursday will be attended by local chief executives of the provinces affected by the days-long power outage.

The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) and distribution utilities in Panay Island are also expected to participate in the deliberation.

Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas mentioned that he was informed of the investigation but was not given an invitation as a resource speaker.

“I was given notice of the congressional investigation. Only the governors of the affected provinces are invited as resource speakers. I will not attend. (Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor Jr.) will be the one to voice out on the massive damage to the city, estimated at P2 billion, and how this can be addressed,” he said in a statement on Monday.

Only resource speakers can speak in the committee session under the House rules.

Defensor was invited as a resource speaker for the committee inquiry of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Treñas, this time, was only invited as a resource speaker for the Senate investigation.

The Senate committee on energy this Wednesday will conduct its public hearing on seven Senate resolutions regarding an inquiry into the power outage in Western Visayas.

Defensor said he is considering filing a class suit but maintained that he will still wait for the committee hearings to identify who is accountable for the blackout that wreaked havoc on the provinces’ economy in Panay.

“A class suit is an option because damage has been caused to our people. We can file a class suit under the civil code […] We are considering that right now but first let us go to Congress and listen and study the data, the facts, and energy laws. We are considering, of course, NGCP might be indicted, but we will see how it develops,” he said.

While the emergency meeting on Thursday last week was “good”, the governor said the incident has to be carefully studied and the right people have to be made liable.

“[That] was good but our time is limited to discuss everything. We didn’t have the data,” he said.

He added: “We have to vindicate the damage that has been done to our people in the province and the city, and the whole of Panay. We have to vindicate and exact accountability for the damage done.”

Senator Risa Hontiveros on Monday filed Senate Resolution No. 890, calling for a “deeper and more extensive” investigation of the power outage.

“Considering that past investigations and probes have not yielded palpable results, an even more comprehensive, thorough, and extensive examination needs to be conducted, including a review of the concession agreement between the National Transmission Corporation and the NGCP, as well as NGCP’s 25-year legislative franchise itself,” the resolution read.

Senator Francis Tolentino has also filed Resolution No. 894, urging the Senate committee on energy, Department of Energy, and NGCP to find a more sustainable solution to the energy supply in the region.