The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has at last done its job—its duty—to protect the public from abuses of the players in our country’s power industry. But it was forced to do so.
In almost daily front page new reports and well-researched expose articles by columnist Rigoberto Tiglao these past months we have detailed the profit-making acts of the companies generating electric power and of the Manila Electric Company. Meralco is the monopoly that controls the distribution of electricity to businesses, factories, offices, schools, churches and households in Metro Manila and environs.
Their excessive profit-making proclivities, we have been contending, have hurt business and industrial growth in our country. These proclivities make the price of power so costly that electricity in our country is among the most expensive in the world.
This makes foreign investors—those that invest in countries outside their own to open businesses and manufacturing plants—shun the Philippines. Meanwhile, they locate their businesses and manufacturing operations in our neighbor countries. If we had more foreign businesses and factories here, there would have been millions more jobs for Filipinos. Our unemployment rate would have been much less than 7.1 % in January 2014 and we would have had less than 2.969 million (or almost 3 million jobless people). These figures are from the government’s Philippine Statistics Authority, which said the latest figures represent an increase of jobless Filipinos to 7.5% from only 7.1% in January last year.
The very high cost of electricity, by hindering foreign and even domestic investments in job-creating businesses, contributes to our country’s massive poverty situation.
The ERC, for all the complexity of the EPIRA Law that governs its existence and functions, in essence has the responsibility and mission of making the power situation in our country more efficient and profitable for investors in generation and distribution while ensuring that the cost—and absence–of power do not become deterrents to growth and development.
But instead of doing their job, the ERC commissioners have allowed the situation to reach the crisis point.
And it actually approved the increase in power rates sought by the Manila Electric Company last December. The rate hike was P4.15 per kilowatt hour. That increase immediately doubled for some Meralco customers their electric consumption bill.
The rate hike, Meralco, ERC and the Aquino administration were roundly condemned by Meralco customers and most of the Philippine media, and more vigorously than others The Manila Times.
Meralco tried to justify the rate hike with the shortage caused by the almost simultaneous closure of nine major generating plants. Experts saw collusion among Meralco and its sources of the power it resells. The ERC commissioners did not notice anything, or if they did, they were willing to ride along with the flow dictated by Meralco and the generators.
Concerned groups immediately took Meralco, the ERC and others to the Supreme Court. The High Court wisely halted the implementation of the rate increase with a temporary restraining order that, we pray, will be made permanent.
Because of the public condemnation of what was clearly an abominable rate increase orchestrated by the biggest power industry players, the Aquino administration seems to have pressured the ERC commissioners to revoke their approval of the rate hike.
The Energy department must also be blamed for the whole mess.
We the people are being fooled by the Aquino administration into believing that the ERC has seen the light at last and found that something terribly wrong was happening at the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) during the shutdown of the Malampaya gas pipeline and other plants in November that made the Meralco rate hikes seem “reasonable, rational and competitive” to the commissioners.
The investigation must continue on the culpability of the Meralco and the other players for the mess.
And the ERC commissioners must account for their, we believe, criminal immediate approval of the Meralco-sought increase.