The United Filipino Consumers and Commuters (UFCC) is calling on Congress to probe the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) for its allegedly questionable dealings with the country’s largest distribution utility Meralco by attempting to water down the immediate refund of P6.9 billion to consumers.
“We have learned that the four ERC commissioners had a closed-door meeting with top honchos of Meralco on May 9. There is no record of their discussion because the Secretariat was asked to leave, but two days later, in a special commission meeting, Commissioner Josefina Magpale-Asirit pushed for a ‘re-deliberation’ of the Meralco refund order that had been approved by the commission en banc on May 2,” Rodolfo Javellana, president of UFCC, said.
In its decision on May 2, the ERC directed Meralco to refund the P6.9 billion within three months, from May 2017 to July 2017.
The amount represents over-recoveries that the utility collected from January 2014 to December 2016.
While Meralco had proposed a 36-month schedule for the refund, ERC went with an immediate payout, or within three months, upon the urging of ERC Chairman and CEO Jose Vicente Salazar.
Noting that the over-recoveries occurred from 2014 to 2016 and that the utility is already in possession of the money, Salazar maintained it would be to the best interest of Meralco’s consumers to have their money returned sooner.
ERC announced its decision on the Meralco refund on May 3.
Malacañang, however, announced Salazar’s preventive suspension the following day.
Asirit took this occasion to return the Meralco refund order to ERC’s legal service, citing the “supervening event” of Salazar’s suspension.
By May 5, ERC’s press release on the Meralco refund could no longer be found on the ERC website.
According to sources, Asirit had the announcement taken down and had even accosted ERC personnel over the posting of the press release.
As a result of the special meeting of May 11, the insiders say the refund period may be lengthened to 12 months, instead of the three-month period approved by the commission on May 2.
“This isn’t the first time Commissioner Asirit has reportedly thwarted the commission to favor Meralco. During the congressional hearing last February, it was established that she also initiated the delay of the competitive selection process [CSP]. Her continued presence at the ERC places all consumers at risk,” Javellana said.
Calculated at P0.7541/kilowatt-hour per month, the Meralco refund would have offered immediate relief to consumers, who have been paying an extra P0.22/kWh since March 2017 and until May 2017 because of increased generation cost incurred by Meralco as a result of the Malampaya shutdown.