1.Q: Why did you decide to establish a consumer group, considering that you were once a government official?
A: Actually, it was my time as a government official that made me see and realize the need to establish a consumer group. My position in government gave me a deeper and more passionate concern for consumers, and it also showed me that there is still so much work to be done, both within the government and outside. In a way, I realized that my job was not yet done, after I served the Filipino people as a government official. So now I continue my calling to serve and protect consumers and their rights thru my consumer group LKI. There were individuals and institutions who gave me inspirations such as the late Atty. Zenaida Reyes and Mrs. Lourdes Quezon who were pioneer members of the National Consumer Affairs Council, Mr. Raul Concepcion of the Concepcion Industries , a rich industrialist who spent his resources and time against the oil companies and the many active consumer associations in the ASEAN such as the Consumer Association in Singapore or CASE and the Consumers International or CI , the umbrella organization of consumer organizations in the world. The LKI is proud to be one of the newest CI member.
2.Q: How has the experience been different between working in the government and working in a non-profit organization?
A: Well, when you work in government, you have to deal with a lot of processes, procedures, formalities and sometimes these can slow down results. But with LKI, I now have more freedom to really pursue the hot issues that affect consumers, and I have more control in advocating for the causes that I believe in. But admittedly, in terms of resources and manpower, being in government was an advantage because you always had a budget to lean on, and a team to work with. Being in a non-profit , non-stock ( capitalized at Php 500.00 ) organization, it is bayanihan to make the most out of personal and existing resources and the help of members and supporters in sharing their ideas and talent. We all carry out with utmost passion and concern for the Filipino consumers. By the way, we remain non ?political as we pursue consumer advocacy.
3.Q: How did your experience working for the government influence your vision for your advocacy group?
A: Mainly, working in government showed me the inner workings of the government, and gave me a different perspective on most of the concerns of the consumers and of the public. It gave me perspective in what goes through government officials? minds, which is very helpful because you also need to see where they are coming from. Basically, it gave me a very holistic and well-balanced take on everything that I do as a consumer group. Recently, the government blamed bad weather for hike in prices of agricultural products beyond the Suggested Retail Prices. From where I am at the moment, we urge the government to catch profiteers who takes advantage of the bad weather to the detriment of the consumers.
4.Q: When did you know it was time to begin your venture in the advocacy group?
A: I knew it even prior to my end of term as a government official. I remembered telling some colleagues that I will venture to consumer advocacy after DTI. And there were many Thomas?s. As mentioned earlier. I was able to do a lot of good things in government, but somehow, I felt that my job was far from done. My former Secretary who praised my job as randam na randam ng mga consumers, and whom I had lunch recently told me that swak na swak ang advocacy mo. And I felt that to pursue that calling, and to continue championing the rights of consumers around our nation, I had to establish an advocacy group to give our people a voice and to protect their God-given rights. I spent a month in August 2016 on clearances to be able to receive my accumulated monetary benefits from the government. In September2016, I took to Facebook and announce to my friends who are interested to be an incorporator, director and member of what is now known as Laban Konsyumer Inc. In September 13, 2016, the LKI was registered in the Securities and Exchange Commission. Why did I choose Laban Konsyumer? Interesting, it was supposed to be the name of a radio program that Mr. Jake Maderazo, the station manager of Radyo Inquirer and myself had discussed but time slotting had been a constraint. Once I saw Jake in a mall and I told him I used the name and of course he was happy too in the turn of events.
5.Q: What can consumers expect from LKI?
A: Consumers can expect LKI to fight on and champion consumer rights and protection. Whatever issue it may be, we will take it on as long as it is relevant and important to consumer welfare. We will remain fair, firm, and passionate with a fiery drive to uphold the very best of Filipino values. We will always champion truth, justice, but more importantly, we will defend the consumers from ever being abused. Consumers can expect an authentic, real, and undying concern and care for them and their families. We also promise to back up all our advocacies with proper research, data and information. We do everything legitimately in LKI, and we uphold the utmost professionalism in all our activities.
6.Q: What are your ideals and advocacies as the founder of LKI?
A: Similar to what I answered in the question earlier, my ideals are mainly to protect the rights and welfare of consumers. Filipino consumers should enjoy the 11 universal consumer rights as the other citizens of the world do such as choice, redress, information, education, safety, sustainable consumption, privacy and protection in the digital commerce. I believe that Filipinos are among the best and brightest in the world, and because of this, I feel that justice must be served for them. So with the group, I will venture into creating a more fair Philippines, and uplift the lives of the Filipino people. My advocacies range from everything from hot issues like the TRAIN and inflation all the way to utilities like water and power bills, and even all the way to oil and gas and flour and cement. Anything that involves consumer rights and protection, I promise to make my cause and I will champion the normal, average everyday Filipino to the very end.
7.Q: What are your long-term and short-term goals for LKI?
A.Short-term, we want to be recognized and gain recognition that we exist, popularity and traction with government and with the media or press. We want to achieve the highest level of respect and recognition so that we can have a valid say in all consumer topics. Long-term, we want our group to grow in terms of manpower and resources, so that we can dedicate specific groups to specific issues or industries. I want LKI to grow and become a household name in terms of being a champion of the people. I am very thankful that so far, we have been getting a lot of coverage, especially in TV primetime news. This is a good sign that LKI is getting to that goal and achievement of influence.
8.Q: Are there certain industries that LKI is heavily monitoring?
A: At LKI, we really try to involve ourselves with all relevant consumer issues or advocacies. But there are a few that we have placed our feet wet such as inflation and the TRAIN Law, Fit-All and other issues relating to power bills , Maynilad and Manila Water bills, Telcos , the cement industry , gas and oil prices, prices of basic necessity and prime commodity, strengthening implementation of the Suggested Retail Prices, ride hailing services, serve as resource persons in the Senate and the House on pending bills and assisting and helping consumers on complaints and find the appropriate remedy and redress for the purpose.
9.Q: How can LKI help the development of the energy sector in the country?
A. I made a statement in the Senate Energy Committee that the Energy Plan or road map should go back to the basics, i. e. explore, develop and utilize indigenous energy resources. I spent almost 30 years of my professional career in this sector and worked in all its phases in the upstream, downstream and tertiary activities. At one point we felt proud that local natural resources contribute more than 60% of the country energy need. Most recently, LKI has been moving against FIT-ALL because this is a charge that all on grid consumers pay to renewable energy companies for electricity that we do not even use, and it is just way too overpriced. And right now, priority should be given to cheap power versus just using RE for the sake of RE, as this will increase costs regularly and this money will just go straight to the pockets of the renewable energy suppliers. Consumers are being taken advantage of. So LKI will fight to do away with fit-all, and definitely put a stop the price increases that fit-all brings with it. In fact producing power from solar energy now is reportedly at it?s lowest anywhere in the world. What will the new ERC or DOE do about this economic changes to pass on the lower costs to the consumers.
10.Q: Do you think fit-all can benefit the Filipinos in the long-run? Why?
A: the way things are going, fit-all will just be a heavy burden for 20 years as they are increasing fit-all charges very regularly, and it is the consumers who have to pay and take on the extra burden of higher prices, all of which will just go to the pockets of renewable energy suppliers. RE is a noble effort, and there is place for RE in a balanced energy mix. But the energy mix should be balanced, and power should be reliable and come at the least cost possible. Right now, fit-all costs are just becoming higher and higher so in the long run, it is a scary though to imagine how much consumers will be paying for RE. While RE holds value for the environment, in the long-run the costs will outweigh the benefit heavily, as consumers will be forced to pay skyrocketing prices for fit-all. Fit-all must stop, without a doubt. Or perhaps, maybe the government can shoulder the costs. But surely, the burden should not be on the consumers.
11.Q: do the pros of the scheme outweigh the cons?
A: as mentioned earlier, the cons are way heavier, and the burden of fit-all is just much too great a weight for our consumers for 20 years. And this added to the fixed universal charges passed on to consumers there is very little pros or benefits to fit-all. It is just a scheme for RE power suppliers to charge consumers higher prices and make money off of them.
12.Q: Is Fit-All the right step to develop RE technologies in the country or are there any alternatives for this scheme? Why?
A: In May 22, 2017, I wrote the DOE Secretary and expressed the LKI position against the Feed ?in ? Tariff Allowance . We stated that the consumers will be unduly burdened with added costs at the time when they need all the support they can muster in the light of multiple increases in the cost of living. In said letter, we challenged the government resources and expertise to find an equitable way to address the FIT-ALL , which may include, but not limited to a subsidy in the General Appropriations Law. We copied the said letter to the ERC, the NREB, and the Chairman of the House and Senate Committees on Energy. The ERC acknowledged receipt of the letter and made general assurance that consumers are not unduly burdened .
Fit-all is not the right step because consumers are being FORCED to pay such high and increasing costs for renewable energy. Ultimately this will affect not only our consumers and our economy. Fit-all is surely not the right step. Again, the alternative would be for the market to work freely, to let it operate without having to force RE down everybody?s throats. Again, we advocate for a balanced energy mix regardless of the technology. We should strive for a balanced energy mix, whether it be RE, coal, natural gas, geothermal energy. The main priority should be providing reliable power at the least cost possible. And fit-all runs totally counter to this dream. Supply should be technology neutral. The regulators should do its job without any outside interference and pressure.
May I add that in the DOE Circular No. DC 2017-12-0015, promulgating the rules and guidelines governing the establishment of the renewable portfolio standards for on-grid areas, our group added in Section 12 on RPS Mandated Participant a provision that requires ? all mandated participant, in complying with the RPS requirement, shall undertake Competitive Selection Process in sourcing RE generation supply for its customers. As such, any additional cost arising from their compliance with the RPS should not result in higher electricity rates to their consumers . Furthermore, in the case of distribution utilities, it shall be their obligation to look for optimal supply mix to ensure level playing field among power developers?.
13.Q: What is the current status of LKI?s petition against the Fit-ALL?
A: Well, right now it is in limbo. We are still calling for government and regulator to act on it as soon as possible. We are hoping for quick action by government, DOE and ERC. Even though the ERC is going thru its own problems with their commissioners and other certain issues and controversies, we still call on them to act already on the fit-all issues as this is already severely affecting the well-being of our Filipino brothers and sisters. We cannot wait any longer because this problem will only get worse and worse if we just let it go like this.
14.Q: How can the government improve the implementation of fit-all in the country?
A: like I said earlier, maybe the government should be the ones to shoulder the costs of fit-all in the first place. We feel that it should not be our poor citizens carrying that burden and paying the overly high priced charges to renewable energy suppliers. The government should act swiftly and take that responsibility upon their own shoulders so as to relieve us consumers from high power costs. Maybe that will alleviate us somewhat from all the other casualties of inflation and TRAIN law. Maybe the senior citizens and persons with disability laws can be adopted in fit all.
15.Q: How do you think the whole energy sector will strive in these changes?
A: it?s never easy, unfortunately. The energy sector is a very complicated, and very crucial part of our economy. And it also has its fair share of controversies and issues that up to now, still cannot be resolved, like the ERC mess. So it will be very hard, but if we can all put our differences aside and work for the common good of the Filipino people, perhaps we can then make some progress finally. I think we should just have the common goal of reliable cheap power for the people. If we all agree to fight for that cause in the sector, I think we can jointly champion consumer welfare. It is not easy but it is definitely possible. My time in government has shown me that if a group of people come together for one cause, they can move mountains and cause great change to occur.
1.Q: Why did you decide to establish a consumer group, considering that you were once a government official?