The Manila Electric Co.’s (Meralco) tried to skirt the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order (TRO) on its proposed P4.15 per kilowatt hour power rate increase when it issued a billing statement that confused customers, a House leader said Thursday.
Rep. Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna, the House Deputy Minority Leader, was referring to Meralco’s enhanced billing statement that listed a deferred amount and a total amount due for payment.
The deferred amount is the subject of the TRO.
The power distribution utility has agreed to grant refunds to customers who paid more than they should as a result of the confusing billing statement.
“The decision of Meralco to refund customers victimized by their wrong billing statement is not enough. In fact, it proves that they tried to circumvent the Supreme Court’s TRO and further bolsters the argument that they should be held in contempt by the High Court and penalized for their evident bad faith,” Colmenares, one of the petitioners against the rate hike, pointed out.
Colmenares urged Meralco to reveal how many customers paid the excess charge and how much they need to refund in the interest of transparency and justice.
“Meralco should submit to the Supreme Court a compliance report showing how they implemented the TRO including the total number of customers who paid before the TRO was issued, how many paid due to the devious and confusing format, and how they intend to refund these,” he said.
Colmenares said Meralco should also pay damages to those who incorrectly paid the restrained amount by refunding double what they paid.
“These steps should be pursued because if they got away with it then the consumers would again be at the losing end,” he said.
In the aftermath of Meralco’s issuance of the confusing billing statement, the Akbayan lawmakers already lodged a petition against another Meralco hike, this time a P0.84 per kilowatt hour hike in generation charges, before the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).
Reps. Walden Bello and Ibarra Gutierrez of Akbayan party-list filed the said petition, as well as a petition to intervene, to secure authority from the ERC to question and oppose the power distribution firm’s rate adjustment application on top of the unprecedented P4.15 per kilowatt hour power rate hike, which was temporarily stopped by the Supreme Court.
Bello noted that Meralco’s new application was prejudicial to the public, considering that the generation charges which Meralco sought to pass on to its customers stemmed from abuse of market power and the manipulation of prices in the wholesale electricity spot market.
“Meralco’s plan to burden the consumers with a new round of rate hikes amid an ongoing battle regarding the legality of its proposed ‘record high’ P4.15 power rate hike betrays its lack of empathy towards their customers. This is the height of abuse and impunity. We will not allow it,” Bello said.
Meralco, Bello argued, should first resolve the legal challenges lodged against its previous rate hike application rather than attempt to exact additional charges from consumers.
“It seems that instead of being dissuaded with the TRO issued by the High Tribunal on its previous application, Meralco saw it as a challenge to be more scheming and brazen in pushing through with their burdensome charges,” Bello said.
Meralco sought ERC’s approval on its P0.84 per kilowatt hour hike on the generation charge which it seeks to secure by March to recover fuel costs amounting to over P2 billion.
Also, Meralco is also pitching for a P0.74 per kilowatt hour increase for five months starting with the April billing that will cover the remaining balance from the deferred generation cost amounting to more than P9 billion.