NEPC franchise bill hurdles Senate debates

Senators Riza Hontiveros, Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, Grace Poe, and Joel Villanueva in a huddle during the debate on House Bill No. 9805 or the NEPC franchise bill.

By Dolly Yasa

The Senate of the Philippines engaged in a comprehensive discussion on Wednesday, May 8, 2024, during Plenary Session No. 71, focusing on House Bill No. 9805 under Committee Report No. 249.

The bill proposes granting the Negros Electric and Power Corp. (NEPC) a franchise to establish, operate, and maintain an electric power distribution system in the cities of Bacolod, Silay, Talisay, Bago, and the municipalities of Murcia and Don Salvador Benedicto.

Senator Grace Poe, who sponsored the bill, emphasized the significant investment involved, projecting an initial capital expenditure of P2.1 billion over the next five years by Negros Power.

She highlighted the economic growth potential for Central Negros and assured stable rates and efficient operations by Negros Power, stating that the current distribution charge of CENECO would not increase for the next three years following the takeover.

During the interpellation, Senator Win Gatchalian underscored the need for approval from the National Electrification Administration (NEA) on plebiscite rules, emphasizing the importance of ensuring a credible, fair, and transparent process in the Joint Venture Agreement between the Central Negros Electric Cooperative (CENECO) and Primelectric Holdings, Inc. (PHI), the parent company of NEPC.

Addressing concerns raised by Senator Riza Hontiveros about employee welfare, Senator Poe assured that all employees would retain their benefits as per the collective bargaining agreement, with rehiring to be based on qualifications and performance, reflecting Negros Power’s commitment to fair employment practices.

Additionally, Poe clarified to Senate minority floor leader Koko Pimentel that CENECO would retain a 30 percent share in NEPC and would receive 70 percent cash based on the value of the assets that PHI will acquire once the franchise is enacted.

Following the extensive deliberation, Senate majority floor leader Joel Villanueva concluded the period of interpellation, with plans to schedule the bill for amendments in the next week’s session.

Consumers in Central Negros are keenly anticipating the commencement of NEPC’s operations, hoping for a swift resolution to the looming power crisis in the region.

Mayor Alfredo “Albee” Benitez said the expected approval of the franchise for Negros Electric and Power Corporation (NEPC) will alleviate the frequent power outages plaguing Bacolod City.

Residents have expressed their frustration with the daily brownouts, which often occur before noon and during nighttime, lasting a few minutes. These outages have damaged electric appliances and reportedly caused unwanted increases in power consumption.

“We are waiting for the approval of the NEPC franchise, and I have expressed my gratitude to Senator Grace Poe for sponsoring the Senate bill for approval,” Benitez said during an ambush interview at the Power Summit held at the Sanctuario de La Salle on Friday.

Benitez explained that once the franchise is approved, NEPC could invest in new equipment and facilities to replace the outdated infrastructure currently used by the Central Negros Electric Cooperative (Ceneco).

“The sooner we can do that, the better,” Benitez added. He had previously stated his intention to urge the Senate to fast-track the approval of the NEPC franchise.

Benitez highlighted the urgency of modernizing Ceneco’s aging facilities due to frequent outages, especially during the soaring summer temperatures.

“The frequent outages in Ceneco’s coverage area, necessitating urgent equipment replacement, must be addressed,” Benitez stated, pointing to the joint venture between Ceneco and Primelectric, which conceived NEPC, as the crucial solution.

Power Watch Negros, a consumer group, is also advocating for the speedy approval of the Senate for the NEPC franchise and plans to undertake a signature campaign among power consumers.


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