PHILIPPINE officials tasked with watching over the electric power industry deserve to be flogged in public for the astronomical cost of electricity in our country. But the private sector producers of electricity (the generating companies) and the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) are just as guilty as the Energy Department and the Energy Regulatory Commission, and probably more so.
Our page 1 banner story (“Meralco: Ang liwanag ng conspiracy”) by Business columnist Ben Kritz reported yesterday that Meralco and Aboitiz Power and its subsidiary TMO conspired through a mendacious agreement to give Meralco the reason to raise its electricity price. They made sure that a potential power supply shortage would create a sense of crisis.
Meralco sells and transmits electricity to our homes, schools, shops, malls, churches, factories, broadcast stations, newspaper offices and factories, and yes the government offices too. The power generating or electricity-producer companies are the companies from whom Meralco buys the electricity it sells to us. Meralco is therefore a middleman. But it also serves the technical and physical function of providing and maintaining the transmission system, the posts and electric lines, that deliver the electricity to our homes.
Meralco and its suppliers, the generating companies, have conspired to use and create a situation in which it looks like the producers would not be able to produce—because urgent maintenance work would have to be done on their generating units lest these break down. But why did the shutdown for maintenance have to happen at the same time last November in practically all the power producer corporations from whom Meralco sources what it sells to us, the public?
In our banner story yesterday and in many other frontpage stories we have run in the past weeks we detail the problem that made four separate petitioners go to the Supreme Court praying that the court halt the implementation of the Meralco rate hike it imposed on its customers during the holiday season last year.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares and several other congressmen, the National Association of Electricity Consumers for Reforms (Nasecore), lawmakers from the Anakpawis party-list and former Iloilo congressman Augusto Syjuco Jr. filed the petitions asking the High Court to strike down the P4.15 per kilowatt-hour price increase. The petition challenges not only Meralco but also the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) which suspiciously approved Meralco’s unconscionable rate increase. Mr. Syjuco, the last to file a petition, also asks the SC to declare ERC’s action unconstitutional.
Patriotically, our Supremes issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the rate hike. And, obviously after studying the matter, they saw that the petitioners should include more power industry corporations in the suits calling for their prosecution. The Supremes wanted Philippine Electricity Market Corp., operator of the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM), to be included in the suit. This is because WESM instead of allowing market forces to determine the price of electricity traded has been a venue for bilateral contracts selling electricity to Meralco at extremely high prices, which Meralco passes on to us consumers for hefty profits.
The SC also specifically named generating corporations that records show “have existing power supply agreements with Meralco (Manila Electric Company) and supplied Meralco with power during November 2013 when the generation costs increased.” Among those named is the Aboitiz Power subsidiary specified in our banner story yesterday.
Costly power most effective way to scare off investors
Among the facts we have given necessary notoriety in our reports is that it was Meralco that dictated the high price it paid to its suppliers at WESM.
This alone indicates that far from being an innocent victim of the government’s failure to manage the power situation, Meralco has in fact been a proactive player in making the price of electricity soar. As a result it gets windfall profits—while household consumers, businesses and industries suffer.
We have never wanted to portray Meralco as the most evil entity in our country. But we simply want the truth in our pages to awaken public outrage over the obscenely high cost of electricity—which we have identified as perhaps the greatest reason for “our economic backwardness.” That is because high electricity costs have stopped foreign investors from putting up businesses and factories here—and have caused companies already here, including Filipino owned ones, to pull out and go to other countries.
Meralco—and the other power industry players, as well as the government regulators they have captured—are all responsible for scaring foreign and even local investors away.
They have killed jobs already in existence and aborted jobs about to be born.