FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

The Dick Gordon show is on the wane, down to confirming if the merchants who sold medical equipment in bulk paid the right taxes.

To be sure, the company Pharmally that sold PS-DBM medical equipment in bulk when the pandemic was new and supplies were scarce is not the most ethical business outfit around. But what is clear is that there is not enough powder in this probe to blow up the administration. Whatever loose ends there are in this oversized deal is best left to the regular enforcement agencies.

As the Gordon show wanes, Sherwin Gatchalian now tries his hand at fomenting another sideshow. But there might not be enough material here to even get the new show rolling.

Gatchalian, we will recall, used the budget hearing for the Department of Energy (DOE) to raise accusations entirely unrelated to the mainline function of this agency.

The senator is questioning DOE’s failure to intervene in the sale of Shell and Chevron shares in the Malampaya gas project to a Filipino firm, Udenna Corporation. No clear explanation has been given why Shell and Chevron decided to sell their stake in the natural gas project. It could be, considering their global operations, that they found opportunities elsewhere to get better returns on their investment. It could also be that the existing wells at Malampaya are due to run dry in a few years.

At any rate, the DOE explained the sale were private stock transactions beyond the regulatory reach of the agency. The business of the DOE is ensuring energy security, not deciding on who should own what.

The sale of the Chevron shares has been perfected. The DOE stepped in to study the sale of Shell shares, examining its impact on our energy future.

A graft case has been filed at the ombudsmen by opposition personalities charging Secretary Al Cusi and other DOE officials with graft for allowing the sale of shares. The DOE position has been consistent: it was not in any position to allow or disallow the sale of shares.

The agency’s business is to make sure that new sources of national gas are found to compensate for the exhaustion of Malampaya’s wells. Natural gas accounts for 40 percent of Luzon’s energy profile. It is presumably to the interest of the new Filipino owner of the Malampaya operation that natural gas production continues well into the future to ensure return on investment.

Gatchalian cites an old presidential decree as his basis for questioning the deal. The DOE maintains the old decree has been superseded. Besides, the transfer of shares observed rigorous global standards for such transactions.

The issue it pretty cut and dry. That did not prevent Gatchalian from repetitively asking the same question until the session lasted for seven hours. He hastily condemned the stock sale as “lutong Makaw” even as the matter was still being discussed in the Senate energy committee.

This seems to be standard operating procedure at the Senate when public hearings are called supposedly because some scandal has been uncovered: ask the same things repeatedly and hope that resource persons would trip on their statements. When they do, headlines are produced.

We saw so much of that in the Pharmally hearings – that was really a belabored fishing expedition.

The issue that Gatchalian is trying to raise is really a technical legal point: whether the DOE should intervene in the sale of shares in an energy-related investment. That is a matter best left for a competent court to settle – and that is not the court of public opinion.


It was not only Senator Gatchalian who tried to convert the DOE budget hearings into a forum for other concerns. Sen. Manny Pacquiao finally made an appearance in what should be his full-time job and pursued his crusade against Energy Secretary Cusi.

However, not many were convinced that the Honorable Senator Pacquiao knew what he was talking about.

The boxer questioned why the Independent Market Operator of the Philippines (IEMOP), capitalized at a mere P7,000, was allowed to operate the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM). He seemed to suggest that there was something anomalous about this. The senator even went into a rant about the added cost the spot market adds to the price of electricity.

The DOE explained that the IEMOP is a non-stock, non-profit entity that oversees the WESM. It is composed of energy experts who are not involved in trades. It is provided for by the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) to ensure that the vital commodity may be traded in an open and transparent spot market.

Pacquiao seemed clueless about how the electricity market operates. Nor does he understand that a non-stock, non-profit company does not, well, make profits. More important, he does not seem to be interested in getting educated about how this market operates.

As the DOE was painstakingly explaining the various components of the competitive and transparent electricity spot market, the ex-boxer left the hearing room. He was interested only in airing his unfounded allegations. In the process, he missed the chance to be enlightened.

The Justice Secretary, perhaps the most polite and politic in the Cabinet, stated that if Pacquiao thinks he has a case to make, he may lodge a complaint at the ombudsman or in the courts.

That is how it should be.

Our senators should learn to build evidence, put together a complaint and lodge a case in our judicial system instead of making wild charges during public hearings where legislators seem unwilling to listen.

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