Busy with NPA, ABS-CBN cases: Calida skips House probe on energy debt
MANILA, Philippines – Solicitor General Jose Calida told the House of Representatives he is too busy with cases against the former chairman of the New Peoples' Army (NPA) and ABS-CBN to personally attend the hearing on debts of energy firms, which is costing the government billions of pesos.
Calida was subpoenaed by the House committees on good government and public accounts to the Wednesday, March 11 hearing, but he instead sent his Assistant Solicitors General Henry Angeles and Vida San Vicente.
"In addition to my day-to-day task in the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), my time is considerably eaten up by the proliferation of upcoming hearings before the Supreme Court, including the Kumander Bilog habeas corpus case and the ABS-CBN quo warranto case," Calida wrote in a letter to the committee, apologizing for his nonattendance.
Calida was referring to the petition for writ of habeas corpus to free former NPA chairman Rodolfo Salas aka Kumander Bilog, a case which will be heard in oral arguments at the Supreme Court Thursday, March 12.
The ABS-CBN quo warranto case has been bumped off by the Supreme Court en banc to its agenda on April 14, when the High Court goes to Baguio for its summer session.
The House committees conducted its third hearing on Wednesday to come up with recommendations for the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management (PSALM) to more effectively collect over P400 billion in debt from energy firms.
Lawmakers are worried that if uncollected, power consumers will inherit the burden.
Calida was summoned because the OSG handles the cases when disputes over these debts reach the Supreme Court.
Particularly, Calida was wanted by the House to explain the Meralco dispute in which the power firm has settled to pay P15 billion to the government. Payment cannot proceed because the OSG is trying to block it, believing that P15 billion is way too low an amount.
"[It is] well below the amount the National Power Corporation is entitled from Meralco which is around P50 billion including surcharge and interest," San Vicente told the House.
Lawmakers were trying to press San Vicente for a way to expedite this process, including approving settlement agreements, but San Vicente insisted that for the OSG, settlements that exceed P100,000 need to have thorough assessment from auditors and shall be approved by Congress.
Thus, San Vicente said they are "bound by law and jurisprudence" to stick with their intervention.
That intervention has been pending before the Supreme Court since 2004. Deadline looms for the government because PSALM will close in 2026.
Calida said he would not be able to answer the questions because it happened before his term.
"I am in no position to provide you such information that would be any more useful that the present handling lawyers will be able to convey," said Calida.
Another Meralco case still pending is the one filed by former Bayan Muna representative Neri Colmenares, where the power firm was accused of jacking up power rates.
The OSG represents the government regulators in that case, as they were questioned for being negligent for having allowed Meralco to increase rates.
Government, particularly the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and PSALM – was once again accused of the same on Wednesday, this time related to a dispute on generational charges debt by the South Premiere Power Corporation (SPPC), a subsidiary of the Ramon Ang-owned San Miguel Global Power Corporation.
"In aid of legislation, I just want to make it clear that I feel among others that SPPC violated the Corporation Code first, and second, I feel that ERC has committed some gross inexcusable negligence by surrendering their jurisdiction," said Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte.
It was Villafuerte who moved to subpoena Calida.
House committee on public accounts chair Mike Defensor and House committee on good government chair Jose Sy-Alvarado earlier said that if Calida does not attend, they may issue a show cause order for the solicitor general to explain why he should not be held in contempt.
No show cause order was issued on Wednesday.
Rizal 1st District Representative Michael John Duavit and Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez kept on saying during the hearing that the matter is better resolved by the courts, as may be handled by the OSG when it reaches the Supreme Court. – Rappler.com