As a multimedia group, Kodao publishes news stories, opinion essays, cartoons, photos and others here.

Youth group: No future under Marcos cha-cha

By Maujerie Ann Miranda

An anti charter change (cha-cha) alliance urged fellow youth and students to oppose ongoing moves by the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government to change the country’s constitution, saying proposed amendments to the country’s charter shall result in robbing them of a bright future.

The Movement Against Charter Change Youth Alliance (MATCHA) said among proposed changes that will severely impact the youth are plans to approve total foreign ownership of educational institutions that are feared to hamper quality education and intensify campus repression.

“Gusto natin ng nationalist, scientific and mass-oriented education. Hindi natin ‘yun makakamit under Marcos, lalo na ‘pag naipasa ‘yung cha-cha,” MATCHA convenor and Philippine Collegian journalist Gie Rodelas said in an interview.

“Commercialized na ‘yung education natin at ‘pag pumasok pa ‘yung foreign ownership, lalo lang mapa-privatize ‘yung educational institutions,” Rodelas added.

The convenor explained that 100% foreign ownership of educational institutions will lead to regular tuition increase as well as constriction of academic freedom due to business considerations.

Launched last month, MATCHA is composed of student councils, campus publications and student organizations as founding members.

MATCHA declared it is a multi-sectoral youth alliance against the government’s “deceptive, anti-Filipino and self-serving efforts for charter change.”

After weeks of silence amid bickering members of both houses of Congress, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. finally came out in support of moves to change the country’s charter, ostensibly its economic provisions to allow for greater foreign ownership of business, including education.

MATCHA however said it will not be farfetched to assume that legislators moving to change the constitution would also lift term limits of elected officials, including the president.

“We don’t want Marcos to extend his power. Ngayon pa lang na two years pa lang tayo under Marcos, ramdam na natin yung repression [at] hindi naman umuunlad ang Pilipinas,” Rodelas said.

Rodelas encouraged the Filipino youth and student organizations to join MATCHA, announcing academic freedom and other education campaigns alongside opposition to charter change.

MATCHA noted the Marcoses have a history of changing constitutions to extend their term of office.

In 1972, the late dictator and the current president’s father Ferdinand Marcos Sr. declared Martial Law and created a new constitution, extending his term to a total of 21 years before being ousted in a popular uprising in 1986. #

Bar passer, 4 NPA comrades massacred by AFP—CPP

[CLARIFICATION: Ms Cesista deliberately chose not to take the oath and sign the roll of lawyers after passing the bar examinations last year. Instead, she chose to join the NPA full time. Technically, she was not a lawyer.]

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) accused the Philippine Army of massacre that killed a bar examinations passer and her four New People’s Army (NPA) comrades in Bilar, Bohol last Friday, February 23.

In a statement on its website, the CPP said the 47th Infantry Battalion (47IB) of the Philippine Army and the Bohol Philippine National Police (PNP) captured bar passer Hannah Cesista, Domingo Compoc, Parlio Historia, Marlon Omusura and Alberto Sancho in a house they stayed in Sitio Matin-ao 2, Barangay Campagao Friday morning.

“Contrary to international laws of war, the victims were tortured and killed,” the CPP said.

CPP’s statement was accompanied by a photo of Compoc, alledgedly a top CPP leader in the province, while being held captive by a government soldier.

Compoc, 60, was tortured in front of residents despite suffering from arthritis. He was hacked at his neck and torso, the CPP said.

The group added that according to a witness, young lady lawyer Cesista was ordered to crawl on mud before being executed.

Authorities said the five were killed in a three-hour gun battle that also killed a Police Corporal Gilbert Amper.

The CPP however insisted the NPA fighters were captured alive and publicly executed to intimidate the residents from supporting the guerrilla army.

The residents were also ordered to leave after the crime, the group further revealed.

It added that the so-called scene-of-the-crime report by the police is an attempt at whitewashing the massacre, also citing the statements given by the PNP over local radio stations that the victims put up a fight while being served a warrant of arrest.

“The 47th IB and the Bohol PNP, the AFP and the PNP leadership, as well as (President Ferdinand) Marcos himself are liable for this war crime and must be prosecuted and punished,” CPP chief information officer Marco Valbuena said.

Tribute to a martyred lawyer

Meanwhile, revolutionary youth group Kabataang Makabayan (KM) paid tribute to fellow youth Cesista.

In a statement Saturday, the group said it salutes Cesista and her four other comrades who shall serve as “fuel to the revolutionary flame in our hearts that can never be extinguished until the national democratic aspirations they offered their lives for are achieved.”

“We particularly raise our fists to our fellow youth, Hannah Jay “Ka Maya” Cesista, whose revolutionary martyrdom serves as inspiration in expressing our militancy through joining the ranks of the NP,” KM said.

“Her pursuit of championing human rights took her to the difficult path of armed struggle after witnessing state fascism and terrorism and, by extension reactionary law, as but utilities of the ruling class to exploit and oppress the people,” it added.

KM said Cesiste offered her expertise and intellect to strengthen the revolutionary ranks of the NPA in Bohol.

“Ka Maya’s life was far from wasted. In fact, she has proven, along with the thousands of martyred Red fighters, that the revolution continues through the ceaseless flow of new blood from the youth who are radicalized in the cities and the countryside, eager for genuine national democracy and lasting peace,” KM said.

Who was Atty. Cesista?

The slain NPA fighter was a graduate of the Political Science Department of the University of the Philippines-Cebu, trained in different theories that shaped her worldviews and analysis, a Kodao source wrote.

Cesista was a member of various campus organizations, including Youth For Christ-UP Cebu Chapter, Cebu Students for Justice and Peace, and Kabataan Partylist-UP Cebu.

She integrated into the different sectors in Central Visayas where she was further exposed to worsening conditions and plights of the basic sectors, the source said.

Cesista then proceeded to law school at the University of San Carlos (USC) and volunteered as a paralegal for human rights groups.

Earlier, AFP Visayas Command mistakenly described the victim as a University of Cebu (UC) – Banilad Campus law alumna, prompting Dean Ria Lidia Espina to issue a correction.

“On behalf of the University of Cebu School of Law, we would like to extend our condolences to the family and send prayers for the eternal repose of her soul, though she was not a UC Law graduate,” Espina said in a Manila Bulletin report.

Philippine Army spokesperson Col. Louie Dema-ala also alleged Cesista became an NPA fighter in 2020 at a time when the victim was a full time law student in Cebu.

As a USC law student, Cesista spent her free time volunteering giving free human rights and paralegal workshops to poor communities.

She was also one of the pioneer members of the National Union of People’s Lawyers Students-Cebu Chapter and was elected as secretary-general.

Cesista graduated in 2022 and passed the bar in 2023. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

(Updated: 28 February)

UST-OSA takedown of ‘controversial’ photo exposes long-standing student repression

By Maujerie Ann Miranda

The University of Santo Tomas’ Office of Student Affairs’ (UST-OSA) takedown of a student publication’s photo exposed the systematic student repression inside the campus, journalist Leo Laparan II said.

In an interview, Laparan, a journalism professor at the university who resigned as the publication’s adviser to protest the decision, shared that the takedown of the “controversial photo” goes beyond the issue of media censorship.

Last February 16, the UST-OSA had a photo of two College of Information and Computing Sciences students in front of a convenience store taken down because it alleged it has become a source of “public ridicule.”

The photo went viral as it showed the uniform’s likeness to the outfit worn by 7/11 workers.

TomasinoWeb, the online student publication that posted the photo in an album, was also asked to issue a public apology or face closure by school authorities.

The humorous TomasinoWeb photo UST-OSA did not find funny.

Media censorship

Laparan revealed that this is the fifth time under his advisory of TomasinoWeb that UST-OSA censored the publication.

“Matagal nang kinikitil ng OSA ang dapat ay malayang pamamahayag ng TomasinoWeb,” Laparan said.

UST-OSA also censored TomasinoWeb posts on the jeepney phase out struggle, student comments on student activities and a photo of LGBTQ+ couple, the lecturer added.

Laparan said TomasinoWeb was also not allowed to cover the university’s Homecoming Walk.

TomasinoWeb executive editor Miguel Angelo Sumalinog added that the UST-OSA only considers TomasinoWeb as a student organization even if “by nature, the work that we do falls under the publication category.”

“Being under OSA didn’t really stop us from producing news content that’s different from the likes of The Varsitarian or The Flame. Some complications that we do face however is that sometimes we don’t get invited to as much events as the others and some content that we put out, like the current trending one, are being stopped or asked to take down,” Sumalinog revealed.

Laparan said that it is very difficult for a media organization to be under a very controlling and restrictive office such as the UST-OSA.

Thomasian students’ reaction to UST-OSA’s media censorship and repressive policies. (Panday Sining-UST photo)

School intervention, intimidation

Laparan said that the issue exposed student repression in the university.

“‘Di lang Tomasinoweb ang nakakaranas niyan. Maraming student organization ang kinikitil ng OSA,”  he added.

He said that the office requires student organizations to submit documents for events months before the actual date, only for the approval to be delayed.

Laparan said, “Ang aga sinasabmit pero ang tagal natutulog sa opisina ng OSA. ‘Di ba malaking problema yun sa mga estudyante na walang magawa kundi sumunod?”

Meanwhile, a student leader who participated in a condemnation rally last February 19 against the TomasinoWeb takedown was ordered to submit show cause letters by the UST-OSA.

Panday Sining-UST chairperson Raven Racelis revealed that the office ordered her to submit proof that they did not violate the university’s code of conduct in attending the rally outside the campus.

She said that the administration had been witch hunting and intimidating students for a long time.

Anakbayan UST chairperson Allen Ballesteros received a similar order last year, demanding they explain why he joined a so-called unrecognized organization.

Racelis said that in 2021, then Grade 12 student Datu Zaldy “Shoti” Ampatuan was dismissed for joining an organization not sanctioned by the school.

The student activist also said that the UST administration had long been intervening in student organization activities.

She cited the recent postponement of a Faculty of Arts and Letters concert in fear of the event turning out to be a venue to protest student censorship, she added.

“Hindi kinikilala ‘yung kapangyarihan ng mga kabataan na pamunuan ‘yung buong student body. Kahit yung Central Student Council (CSC) ay pinipigilan ng OSA na maglabas ng mga ‘politikal’ na mga statement,” Racelis shared.

Student initiatives such as the student code containing the rights of Thomasians and the CSC Constitutional Revision systematizing student leadership were difficult to process, also revealed.

“Wala daw kakayahan ang mga estudyante na bumuo ng mga polisiya,” the student leader said.

Thomasian students’ reaction to UST-OSA’s media censorship and repressive policies. (Panday Sining-UST photo)

Reflection of education system

Racelis said that recent developments in one of the country’s oldest universities are a reflection of the colonial, commercialized and repressive system of education in the Philippines.

She added that UST was originally built to pacify students during the Spanish colonization and is still continuing this orientation.

“Tinuturuan nilang maging tuta ang mga estudyante,” she said.

Laparan for his part said that the UST-OSA is going against the mandate of the university to nurture students.

“Tinatakot ang mga estudyante, hinahayaan maging sunud-sunuran lang. Paano mahuhubog ang mga talento at husay ng mga ‘yan?,” the journalist lecturer asked.

Continuing clamor

Laparan demanded accountability, saying that UST-OSA director Maria Cecilia A. Tio Cuison and her deputy should step down.

“Hindi dapat binibigyan ng kapangyarihan ang mga mapanggipit, mapaniil, at lango sa kapangyarihan,” he said.

Racelis said her organization supports Laparan’s call, adding however that the university must amend its policies on students.

“Kahit na sinong ipalit mo na opisyal sa pamantasan nandiyan pa rin ang pananakot at panunupil dahil ang problema ay hindi ‘yung tao kundi ‘yung sistema na kailangan natin baguhin,” she added.

The student activist said UST students should also demand for a nationalist, scientific and mass-oriented (NSMO) system of education as a solution to repressive school policies.

“Sa NSMO, hinuhubog ‘yung mga kabataang estudyante hindi para maging cheap and docile labor force at maging tuta na lamang. Huhubugin ang mga kabataang estudyante na maging makabayan at tuloy-tuloy na maglingkod sa malawak na hanay ng sambayanan,” she explained.

UST students and alumni meanwhile have mobilized to provide support to TomasinoWeb, condemning media censorship and student repression.

Student organizations held rallies at UST’s P. Noval gate while the alumni have signed unity statements condemning UST-OSA’s decisions.

Students also held a black mask event at the UST Grandstand and a prayer vigil in the front of the Arch of the Centuries last February 23, the first rally held inside the campus in nearly seven years. #

Jhed, Jonila post bail for defamation charge

State abduction survivors Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano posted bail at the Dona Remedios Trinidad Municipal Trial Court in Bulacan province on Wednesday for the grave oral defamation charge against them by the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government.

The environmental activists posted P18,000 each for their temporary liberty after being accused by the Department of Justice (DOJ) that they used a press conference to accuse the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict of abduction in Bataan Province.

In a press conference organized by the Plaridel Public Information Office last September 19, 17 days after their abduction in Orion, Bataan last September 2, the two victims revealed they have been abducted by the military and have not surrendered as the Philippine Army claimed.

Embarassed by Castro and Tamano’s brave revelation in front of their abductors, the military filed perjury charges that was dismissed by the DOJ in favor of the new defamation charge.

AFP’s ‘honor and reputation’

The new charge was filed by Lt. Col. Ronnel dela Cruz, commander of the 70th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army’s 7th Infantry Division based in Doña Remedios Trinidad.

Castro and Tamano were detained at the army unit’s headquarters during their ordeal.

In its resolution, the DOJ alleged the respondents “employed machinations and took advantage of the benevolence of the 70th IB (Infantry Battalion) and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) to embarrass and put them in bad light.”

“There was a deep-rooted motive on the part of respondents to select a public forum that would express their sentiment. We consider the statement of respondents to be serious slander because the circumstances of the case show that they consciously, intentionally and on purpose waited and chose the press conference which would be held in public to air their grievance and plight,” the DOJ added.

“The slanderous words were obviously uttered with evident intent to strike deep into the character, honor and reputation of (the) complainant and the AFP,” the resolution reads.

Abductors and liars

In a joint statement, Tamano and Castro on Tuesday bewailed that the victims have become the respondents, even after the Supreme Court recently granted them Writ of Amparo and Habeas Data protection mechanisms.

“The abductors are very intent to jail those they’ve abducted,” the victims said.

The two also revealed that the Office of the Solicitor General has filed an omnibus motion appealing the writs granted them by the high tribunal.

“The only criminals here are the AFP and NTF-ELCAC abductors and liars, as well as the other government agencies that assist them,” the two added.

The only two victims who bravely revealed being abducted in the presence of their abductors, Tamano and Castro are being hailed as the faces of enforced disappearances and fake surrenders human rights organizations accuse the military of committing.

Their testimonies have also become instrumental in the issuance of recommendations for the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC by the United Nations special rapporteurs on climate change and freedom of expression and opinion. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Destructive mining led to Maco disaster—CPP

Destructive mining operations led to the landslide that killed at least 71 last February 6 in Maco, Davao de Oro, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said.  

CPP chief information officer Marco Valbuena pointed a finger at mining operations in the region saying, “The disaster is clearly the direct result of the massive destruction of forests and mountains that characterize large parts of Mindanao, especially Davao de Oro and other Davao provinces.”

While noting that the latest in a series of mudslides and flooding came in the wake of weeks o torrential rains, the CPP officer said Apex Mining Company is responsible for the disaster.

“The Apex Mining operates open pit mines in the area. Zone 1 is a community of workers employed by Apex. Despite dangerous conditions resulting from weeks of rains, no precautions were made to evacuate the community,” Valbuena said.

Barangay Masara forms part of the area of mining operations of the Apex Mining Company, a company mainly owned by billionaire Enrique Razon, a close ally of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., he added.

Barangay Masara buried under tons of mud. (Presidential Communications Office photo)

Apex Mining denied culpability in the disaster, saying Masara is outside its actual mining concession.

“The area where the slide happened is outside the mine operations area of the Company but is used as a vehicle terminal for buses and jeepneys servicing the employees, its service providers and members of the community,” the company said in a statement last week.

“The Company is focused on fully supporting the rescue operations of the local government units by providing equipment, manpower and food supplies to affected residents, including our employees. The Company is on limited operations while it provides resources to the rescue operations,” it added.

Apex mines for gold in the area.

The CPP however pointed out that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has flagged Apex Mining for alleged violations of mining rules whose operations had been ordered suspended by the late environment secretary Gina Lopez in 2016.

The landslide area had been also been declared a “no build zone” after prior landslides in 2007 and 2008.

Earlier, labor federation Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) demanded an investigation on how the mining company treated its workers, allowing them and their families to live in danger areas adjacent to its open pit mines.

“The people must know exactly how destructive mining operations gravely affect lives, safety and livelihood of our compratriots,” KMU secretary general Jerome Adonis said.

“It must be asked: how did the company looked after their workers when they report for work and how they return to their homes after?” he added.

In a February 14 update, the Department of Social Work and Development has reported that a total of 1,944 families or 7,323 persons had been affected in four barangays in the municipality. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NGCP told to ‘practice discipline’ to protect consumers

Energy industry regulators are urging utilities, especially monopolies like the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, to charge only reasonable expenses to consumer electric bills.

BY ELYSSA LOPEZ / Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

Second of two parts

Part 1: Philippine power transmission monopoly NGCP questions rate review amid calls for refund

In its preliminary review, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) disallowed expenses of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) totalling P3.7 billion, which it said were “improperly documented or not recoverable for customers.”

The biggest items disallowed were for public relations, corporate social responsibility (CSR), and advertising-related expenses. 

NGCP’s advertising expenses, for example, reached P130 billion from 2016 to 2020. 

The NGCP argued that its advertising expenses were “not for marketing purposes” but for “information dissemination.” The ERC however demanded proof of the need to spend such an amount on ads. 

“There is a test of reasonableness [in assessing these expense items]. If these were spent on full-page ads saying: “Bawal humawak ng livewire,” [we must ask]: reasonable ba ‘yung full-page ad saying that?” ERC Chairperson Monalisa Dimalanta said in a news conference in November where she announced the results of the commission’s preliminary review. 

In a separate news conference in November, NGCP Assistant Vice President Cynthia Alabanza said it was “unfair” for the regulator to “retroactively” apply new rules.

“Before you join a game, you need to know the rules. And to retroactively apply rules while you’re in a game, that’s unfair,” Alabanza said in Filipino. 

“I’m wondering why they released it when it is still raw. It’s like if we had 100 steps to take to the finish line, we’re still in step two,” she said in Filipino in a press conference held right after ERC’s media conference. 

Dimalanta said it was necessary to release the initial findings. 

“I think we owe it to the public to let them know what is happening [in the review] and to provide guidance on what is allowed and disallowed [in the expenses of the NGCP],” she said in the press conference in November.

Alfredo Non, who served as ERC commissioner from 2012 to 2018, said there should have been “clearer guidelines” on what spending items were “acceptable.” 

“As far as I am concerned, the ERC has not released guidelines on how regulated entities may spend on CSR, or salaries,” he said. 

The former commissioner, however, did acknowledge that, during his time, the ERC had disallowed salary increases for a government-controlled corporation. 

“When the Philippine Electricity Market Corporation asked before for higher market fees because that’s how they cover their budget, for salary increases, we disallowed it. Because they refused to show documents of their payroll,” he said. 

“So if NGCP shows documents, then they should be allowed,” he added. 

NGCP’s reply to the ERC findings, which has not been made public as of this writing, is expected to have addressed these issues.

ERC said the disallowances were intended to protect consumers.

“It’s not that the commission is prohibiting them (regulated entities), for example, from increasing the salaries of their employees, or giving donations, or engaging in CSR [activities],” Dimalanta said in the ERC’s November news conference. 

“What we’re saying is, you can’t recover that from the rates [you impose on consumers]. You recover that from your profits,” she said. 

The ERC had previously ruled, in cases involving power distribution utilities, that CSR expenses should not be charged to consumers.

In its 78-page order, the ERC also highlighted that the NGCP, as a public utility, is mandated to incur only “necessary and efficient costs,” with expenses kept “at a minimum.”

Adoracion Navarro, senior research fellow at the state think-tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) said ERC’s moves are intended to send a clear message to NGCP and other entities regulated to practice discipline.

“If before, they (the NGCP) got away with spending on these (disallowed expenses), then the regulator is now setting more discipline,” Navarro told PCIJ. She is a former deputy director general at the National Economic and Development Authority.

“The regulator is now just enforcing that we have to stick with the principles or the rules,” Navarro said. 

ERC is making sure that NGCP is “not shortchanging the industry and the Filipino people,” according to a former energy official who asked not to be named.

The official said the entire rate-setting process is supposed to determine which expenses are considered prudent, and it’s up to the NGCP to justify its revenue requirements.

“Because how the commission works is… it is wary. It just wants to make sure that NGCP is functioning at its optimum efficiency, and that it is not shortchanging the industry and the Filipino people,” the official said.

“The concession agreement is a privilege, and that comes with attendant responsibilities,” the official added. 

 Will there be refunds? 

The ERC is expected to release its final determination of the rates in the first quarter of 2024.

Will there be cash refunds? The ERC said it is possible but it’s not guaranteed.

“What we’re seeing are just telltale signs, because they are claiming this much, and we are deciding that they can only recover this much, then there could be a downward adjustment [on their allowable revenue], or a refund,” Dimalanta said in November.

Instead of cash refunds, the ERC is inclined to implement a “reduction of transmission rates,” according to Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian at a Senate hearing to discuss ERC’s budget. He defended the budget of ERC during last year’s budget deliberations. 

“In terms of modality, it’s easier to reduce the rates, and easier for the regulator to monitor and apply, and to supervise [that kind of] implementation,” he said during the hearing last Nov. 13, 2023.

How much that reduction would translate into consumers’ electricity bills has yet to be determined, he said. But he assured the public that it would be “significant.” 

Non said it was the release of the partial results that “created a wrong impression that there would be refunds.”

The release of ERC’s final review of NGCP’s fourth regulatory period was initially expected as early as August 2023. Instead, a preliminary review was released in November 2023, around the time that Congress was deliberating the national budget. 

“It’s budget season. They (ERC) had to show to Congress and the Senate that they were doing their jobs,” the energy official who spoke with PCIJ said. 

The Senate approved an P888-million budget for the ERC, higher than the P611 million originally proposed by the Department of Budget and Management.

 NGCP in hot water 

NGCP faced scrutiny amid heavy criticisms against its performance as the country’s grid operator.

NGCP officials have been called to many House and Senate hearings since parts of Luzon were subject to rotational brownouts in the Summer of 2021. It does not help that the Luzon grid suffers from yellow and red alerts every year, once the hot season comes, too.  

NGCP is responsible for building more transmission lines, but many of its projects are delayed. Power producers have previously lamented delays in their connections to the grid. 

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. himself gave NGCP a reprimand during his second State of the Nation Address in July 2023 over these delays.

“We are conducting a performance review of our private concessionaire, the NGCP. We look to NGCP to complete all of its deliverables, starting with the vital Mindanao-Visayas and the Cebu-Negros-Panay interconnections,” Marcos said in his 2023 SONA speech.

In January 2024, Marcos again took a swipe at the NGCP for failing to prevent a massive power outage in Panay Island, which caused its residents to suffer from total blackout for three days.

“This incident emphasized the vital role of these interconnection projects. We cannot afford to have another round of this costly interruption, not only in Panay Island but anywhere in the country,” Marcos said in an NGCP event announcing the completion of the Mindanao-Visayas interconnection.

Marcos pushed for the completion of remaining critical interconnection lines, including the Cebu-Negros-Panay backbone project during the event.

“So, we look forward to your assurances in the promised completion of the 230 kV Cebu-Negros-Panay backbone project by March of this year,” he said. 

The ownership structure of NGCP has also been a subject of security concern because it is 40% owned by the State Grid Corporation of China. Lawmakers have expressed fears that Beijing could use the NGCP for sabotage in case of a conflict over the disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea.

NGCP said this is not a concern because “only Filipinos are manning the (NGCP) substations.” 

On the other hand, there are concerns that cutting NGCP’s profits could affect its ability to expand the country’s transmission lines. 

The NGCP needs the financial muscle to develop the country’s transmission grid and prevent massive blackouts. The NGCP also needs to modernize the grid to support renewable energy suppliers, according to experts.

In a 2023 report, the Climate Analytics think tank estimated that the country would need transmission lines to accommodate 163 gigawatts (GW) of energy, taking into account the variable nature of proposed and committed renewable energy projects.

NGCP’s Ablanza said as much. She said transmission planning would be critical to the green energy push.

“So if they (the ERC) limit our ability to recover our bonafide expenses, then it would have an impact,” she said.

Non warned of the consequences if ERC’s preliminary review is upheld. He said the NGCP’s investors could be “forced to pull out” if the effects of the review put a dent in the company’s financial ability to operate. 

“If I were NGCP, I would fight it out [in court], because the basis for you to continue is a going concern. And if the effect of the review is too significant, then I may pull out [of the concession agreement,” he said.

Whatever the outcome, ERC’s final review of NGCP’s rates will inevitably have consequences on the energy industry. It will also translate to real costs that Filipino consumers will bear. END

Philippine power transmission monopoly NGCP questions rate review amid calls for refund

Delays in the rate review process mean the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines will continue to charge transmission rates that critics have described as ‘excessive.’

BY ELYSSA LOPEZ / Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

First of two parts

The Supreme Court petition filed by the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) to halt a long-delayed review of its rates could keep power costs high and delay potential refunds to consumers.

NGCP is a private monopoly that operates the country’s power transmission lines — the grid — linking power generators to distribution utilities such as Meralco and electric cooperatives nationwide. Costs incurred by the NGCP are passed on to consumers as part of their electric bills, accounting for about 10% of the total bill based on estimates.

The NGCP suffered a setback in November last year when the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), in a preliminary review of its rates from 2016 to 2022, the fourth regulatory period (RP), cut its allowable expenditures by half. 

The amount included disallowances worth  P3.7 billion, which were spent for public relations and advertising costs, among others, that ERC said should not be charged to consumers.

Senators have been among the most vocal in calling for the ERC to order refunds to consumers.

But the NGCP questioned before the Supreme Court new rules adopted by the ERC when it reviewed the rates of the transmission operator. It sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the ERC proceedings. 

NGCP lawyer Jerome Versoza announced this move in December 2023, as the ERC began proceedings for the fifth RP covering the years 2023 to 2027. 

A TRO, if granted, would restrain “the honorable commission from continuing further proceedings with concern to the fourth RP application and the fifth RP application,” the NGCP lawyer said.

The fourth RP, covering the years 2016 to 2022, is the subject of the November preliminary review, whose final determination is expected in the first quarter of 2024. The fifth RP covers the current period, from 2023 to 2027. 

 ‘There is still no TRO’ 

Pete Ilagan, a consumer affairs advocate and former energy official, warned that a Supreme Court intervention would “delay the reset process, definitely.”

“But the bigger issue is the application for the fourth regulatory process is still pending, and it’s already past the period,” he said. “[It is] a clear case of regulatory failure.” 

During the December 2023 hearing, ERC presiding officer, Maria Corazon Gines, took note of Versoza’s manifestation, but proceeded with the pre-trial for the fifth review as the Supreme Court had yet to act on the NGCP’s plea. 

“As there is still no TRO or preliminary injunction, then we will continue with the proceedings,” she said.

NGCP’s counsels stayed in the room but did not comment during the two-hour proceedings.

The details of the NGCP petition remain under wraps. News organizations including the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) have repeatedly sought a copy from NGCP, but were denied. 

The PCIJ has also requested a copy from the ERC, but was refused. The regulator argued that the PCIJ was “not a party to the said case.” 

“The ERC is enjoined to observe the sub judice rule (which restricts comments and disclosures pertaining to judicial proceedings), consequently, [we are] constrained to deny your FOI (freedom of information) request,” it wrote in a letter to the PCIJ. 

NGCP has publicly questioned ERC’s preliminary review of its rates because the ERC — hobbled by internal issues and later on, the Covid-19 pandemic — changed the rules governing the review process.

READ: NGCP’s rate reset: A timeline

The ERC review, called the “rate reset,” is normally forward-looking and akin to a budget process. The ERC approves NGCP’s annual revenue requirement or ARR from which it can charge its expenditures.

The original timeframe of the fourth regulatory period covered five years – from 2016 to 2020.  The rate reset should have been done in 2015. However, a series of leadership changes in the ERC delayed the process.

ERC only started the review process in December 2022. ERC decided to look at NGCP’s actual expenses and added two more years to the fourth review period – 2016-2022 from the original 2016-2020 – to clear the backlog in time for the fifth review covering 2023 to 2027.

READ: What is the rate reset process?

Critics have found NGCP’s transmission rates, set in 2009, to be “excessive.”

The ERC’s preliminary review of NGCP’s rates from 2016 to 2022 cut NGCP’s revenue requirement, essentially, the transmission operator’s allowable expenses, to more than half. 

In its application, NGCP sought a revenue requirement worth P387.80 billion for 2016 to 2020, which meant an annual average of P129 billion. But the ERC, based on its initial review, found that allowable revenue should only be at P183 billion for the period, or about P36.67 billion a year.

The NGCP, from 2016 to 2020, operated on an interim maximum annual revenue (iMAR), approved by the ERC under a different leadership. 

This iMAR, said NGCP Assistant Vice President Cynthia Alabanza, was only an estimate but was approved by the ERC as there was no regulatory review at that time. 

“Just like when Congress hasn’t approved a government budget, the government would spend based on what was previously allowed. So that’s what we were doing… we were spending based on what was allowed [in the third regulatory period],” Alabanza said in Filipino in a news conference in November 2023. 

But the iMAR could be subject to review and may be revised, based on ERC rules. 

Majority of the ERC’s cuts in the preliminary review came from three major items: 

• net efficiency adjustment

• revenue under-recoveries

• net performance incentive

These three items were worth P104 billion during the five-year review period. 

The net efficiency adjustment is the incentive given to the NGCP for achieving “cost reductions in controllable costs,” while revenue under-recoveries are expense items not recovered during the previous regulatory period. 

ERC said a decision on both items would be made in the final determination of the review due this quarter. 

It is not, however, keen on granting a net performance incentive to the transmission operator. 

This incentive is based on a performance incentive scheme (PIS), a set of service and operational performance criteria, which is supposedly set before the beginning of every regulatory period. 

If the NGCP meets these criteria, it is rewarded with an incentive. Otherwise, penalties may be imposed. 

In its application for the fourth rate reset, the NGCP adopted the PIS set during the third regulatory period. But the ERC said it was “constrained from upholding this position.” 

“Considering that the PIS and its factors have not been established prior to the commencement of the fourth regulatory period, it follows that NGCP does not have the basis to enforce the incentives. Conversely, there appears to be no grounds for the imposition of penalties,” the November ERC order read. 

Former ERC commissioner Alfredo Non said the ERC position was debatable because the NGCP should be recognized for meeting the criteria for incentives in the previous regulatory period.

“It is not NGCP’s fault that ERC failed to provide parameters for the fourth regulatory period,” said Non, who was ERC commissioner from 2012 to 2018. 

ERC said the disallowances were intended to protect consumers. (CONTINUED)

CHR echoes UN expert’s call to stop red-tagging

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) again called on the Philippine government to stop red-tagging after another United Nations (UN) expert noted its practice by Philippine security forces.

Reacting to UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan’s recommendations at the end of her 10-day official visit earlier this month, the country’s national human rights institution said it reaffirms its call to the government to put an end to the practice.

“We must remain mindful that red-tagging is a human rights violation on its own and may lead to a multiplicity of other acts of violence which put the welfare of the general public at risk,” the CHR said in a statement today.

The CHR added it supports Khan’s recommendation for at least a review of National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC)’s mandate, reminding the government’s counter-insurgency mechanism the people’s right to public governance must be protected as part of democracy.

In her actual statement however, Khan categorically said she recommends “that the Task Force be abolished.”

Khan also said, “…there is clear evidence that ‘red tagging’ and ‘terror tagging’ as some persons have called them, are being practised by security forces as part of their counter-terrorism strategy.”

Media security office also needs review

The CHR added it echoes Khan’s call for the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) to also review its approach in viewing and investigating violence committed against journalists.

The Commission said it hopes investigations concerning media-related violence are attended to with a keen eye, considering that journalists face heavier safety risk.

The PTFoMS however earlier rejected Khan’s recommendations, alleging the UN expert had prejudged the government before conducting her official investigations.

In his program on a government radio station last February 3, PTFoMS executive director Paulino Gutierrez said the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government welcomed Khan despite fears she would still criticize the government on its human rights record.

“Despite the preparations made by our group for her arrival, we accepted the fact that she would severely criticize the Philippines. In other words, we welcomed her with eyes wide open,” Gutierrez said in a mix of Filipino and English.

“If Ms. Khan thought she could fool and make our government turn and jump hoops, despite us exchanging sweet words, she is mistaken,” Gutierrez also said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Khan: NTF-ELCAC harmful to peace talks efforts

United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan said the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration’s decision to open peace talks with the revolutionary Left is a positive signal but urged however for the abolition of the government’s anti-insurgency task force.

Among her recommendations in her exit press briefing last Thursday, February 2, Khan said the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) should be abolished “to allow for more inclusive peace-building platforms.”

“The tone of the new Administration, coupled with its decision to open peace talks with insurgents and a renewed engagement with the international community, are positive signals,” Khan said.

“But addressing the serious and deep-seated human rights issues will require more fundamental and sustained reforms,” she added.

Khan said the NTF-ELCAC is “outdated” and stressed that “does not take into account the ongoing prospects for peace negotiations.”

The government, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Royal Norwegian Government simultaneously announced ongoing discussions for the possible resumption of formal peace negotiations.

Immediate rejection

Khan’s recommendation was however immediately rejected by Marcos administration officials, even accusing the UN expert of blindsiding the government with her preformed opinions before arriving in the Philippines.

National security adviser Eduardo Año, Peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr., National Security Council assistant director Jonathan Malaya and media security task force head Paulino Gutierrez in unison rejected Khan’s recommendation of Khan to abolish the NTF-ELCAC.

“Please take note that this is a 55-year old running insurgency. Now that we have reached this stage in the campaign, we feel it is improper to call for its abolition,” Malaya said, again claiming the government is about to defeat the New People’s Army (NPA).

Año for his part said the NTF-ELCAC “does not encourage red-tagging.”

Sen. Imee Marcos also mocked Khan’s call to abolish the task force as “supremely presumptuous,” belittling the length of time the UN expert spent in her in-country investigations.

“After a mere 10 days in the Philippines, during which she never visited the NTF barangays but only met a chosen few witnesses, she has the knowledge and the right to tell the Philippine government what to do?” Marcos said in a statement.

Ignorant response

Rights group Karapatan however labeled the Senator as ignorant, saying she should be schooled on international human rights mechanisms like the UN and the International Criminal Court.

“They cannot just sign human rights treaties, conventions and go to town saying that we have a ‘vibrant’ democracy, without being held accountable for the Philippine government’s obligations and commitments in this global rights system,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

Palabay pointed out that it was the government that invited Khan into the Philippines and her recommendations must be respected as part of the government’s obligations to the international community.

“What they fail to see is that it is simply game over for the NTF-ELCAC, despite all the lights and sounds show, parties and meetings they put up during SR Khan’s official visit,” Palabay said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NUJP to PTFOMS: Where did your 50% media killing resolution rate come from?

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) blasted government claims that more than half of all media killings in the Philippines have been resolved.

Reacting to government claims to visiting United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan, the NUJP said it is flabbergasted that the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFOMS) reported 102 out of 203 media-related killings have been successfully prosecuted.

The NUJP said that, based on its own monitoring, there have been 199 journalists were gunned down since 1986 and the number of cases successfully resolved does not come close to 50 percent.

The group cited a Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism report in December 2022 that revealed only 11 percent of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility’s count of 176 media killing resulted in convictions.

The same article showed that only 53 percent of the cases reached the courts, the group added.

“How the PTFOMS classified the case as ‘resolved’ is a mystery. Do they mean establishment of possible motives, identification of the suspects, or shrugging off the incidents as not work-related?” NUJP asked.

In a press release Friday, PTFOMS said it discussed with Khan its database on media killings, revealing that “half of the media-related killings (102 out of 203 cases) have been resolved, whether through legal prosecution or other means.”

“This contrasts starkly with the United Nations’ record of only about 10% resolution in journalist killings around the world, a point highlighted by Ms. Khan,” the task force boasted.

PTFOMS added that its discussion with Khan last Wednesday also highlighted the collaborative efforts of the Department of Justice and law enforcement agencies in addressing media killings.

Families of media killing victims however testified to Khan that successful prosecutions mostly mean the conviction of triggermen and accomplices but not of the masterminds.

Last Tuesday, family members of Dr. Gerry Ortega and Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa joined media organizations in their meeting with Khan and complained of the government’s failure to convict alleged masterminds of their murders.

Former Palawan governor Joel Reyes is being charged of masterminding Ortega’s assassination in 2011 while former Bureau of Corrections director general is accused of masterminding Mabasa’s murder.

“The brazenness of the killings, such as in the cases Percy Mabasa and Juan Jumalon, indicates that impunity is alive in this country. Emblematic of this problem is the case of Gerry Ortega who was gunned down in 2011. After 13 years, the alleged mastermind remains scot-free,” the NUJP said.

“Whether work-related or not, killings of journalists are not acceptable, and should not happen in a democratic society. The killings underscore the failure of the government to protect the right to life of its citizens,” the group added.

Khan is in the Philippines for a 10-day official visit to look into the state of press freedom and freedom of expression and opinion in the country.

She met with journalists and activists in Baguio City last Friday and had just concluded her meetings with counterparts in Tacloban City.

Khan also visited journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio, church worker Marielle Domequil and human rights defender Alexander Abinguna at the Tacloban District Jail earlier today. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)