By MYRNA M. VELASCO
On the next public hearings, the House committee on energy will dig deeper into the composition of the board of directors of the Independent Electricity Market Operator of the Philippines (IEMOP), the operator of the country’s Wholesale Electricity Spot Market.
In an interview, House committee on energy member and Nueva Ecija Representative Rosanna Vergara indicated that apart from the questioned appointment of the current president of IEMOP – Atty Richard Nethercott, the committee as a whole will also tackle the process of appointments of key individuals comprising the IEMOP Board.
Vergara, during a public hearing on February 5 (Wednesday) primarily raised probable violation of Section 3 (b) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act relative to Nethercott’s appointment as IEMOP president, given his relationship with one of the top officials of the Department of Energy.
The lawmaker was anchoring that premise on the fact that Nethercott is married to Assistant Secretary Caron Aicitel Lascano of the DOE, which is the same agency still supervising oversight to the governing entity of the WESM.
Vergara argued that if IEMOP is claiming to be a private corporate entity; and the DOE has its oversight function at the governing body of the WESM operator via the Philippine Electricity Market Corporation (PEM) Board, then she noted that such posits a violation of the anti-graft law.
The lawmaker averred that she also questioned Nethercott’s experience in the energy sector – with the IEMOP President forthrightly admitting that he had none, and that his practice was in the legal profession.
Vergara said other details that will be scrutinized in the next hearing will be the manner of appointment of the IEMOP Board – including the five individuals who were known to have zero background in energy and are also lacking in knowledge when it comes to the intricacies of operations of a highly technical and complex power spot market.
These are retired General Ralph Villanueva (the current IEMOP board chairman); lawyer Carroll Tang, retired General Vicente M. Porto, Engineer Jose Mangulabnan and Nethercott – who were nominated for board memberships in the 2018 IEMOP elections on the lone endorsement of Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi, who was still the chairman of PEM Board at that time.
The only two appointed members of the board with energy background then were Atty Francis Saturnino Juan and Engineer Jose Mari T. Bigornia – who also both served as Presidents of IEMOP but had been removed by the dominating non-energy board without feasible grounds provided even to the trading participants of the WESM.
Vergara indicated that the P2.0 million bonuses reportedly accorded by the IEMOP board to themselves had likewise been raised during the committee hearing, but the matter was deferred as part of the next hearing’s agenda.
The lawmaker noted that House Committee on Energy Chairman Lord Allan Velasco had instead instructed IEMOP to submit all of its audited financial statements so the legislative body can thoroughly scrutinize how it spent all of its market fee collections.
Vergara added that the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) will also be invited by the committee to shed light if the market fees it approved for PEMC can just be automatically be passed on to IEMOP, without the latter making separate application for collection of such fees from WESM participants.