The Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) should stop “blackmailing” and threatening consumers with massive blackouts in the coming months
if the Supreme Court (SC) does not lift the temporary restraining order (TRO) on the power rate hike sought by the power firm, lawmakers said on Friday.
Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna party-list said that Meralco and other power generators are blackmailing electricity consumers into accepting higher power rates supposedly to prevent blackouts.
“This is clear blackmail. Meralco and [Philippine Independent Power Producers Association President Luis Miguel] Aboitiz are trying to circumvent the Supreme Court temporary restraining order with this threat,” Colmenares said.
The government is taking steps to avert Meralco’s warning of “rotating blackouts.”
In a text message, Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla said that the government is working with the concerned stakeholders to balance the power supply and demand to address possible power outages.
The Energy department, he said, is trying to mediate between Meralco and the power generators in the hopes of finding a “practical solution.”
“While the SC TRO is pending and to ensure the continuity of service, the DOE [Department of Energy] has been in the process of mediating between Meralco and the power generators on a practicable solution as to how fuel costs will be shouldered between the parties and to reconcile their accounts depending on the final outcome of the case,” Petilla said.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. reiterated that the government is ready to protect consumers from excessive power rate increases.
“Tungkulin ng pamahalaan na pangalagaan ang kapakanan ng mga mamamayan [It is the duty of this government to defend the welfare of its citizen],” Coloma said.
“Tungkulin din ng Meralco at ng lahat ng kompanya sa industriya ng kuryente na gawin ang narararapat upang tiyaking makatatanggap ng ganap na serbisyo ang mga mamamayan. Makikipag-ugnayan ang pamahalaan sa industriya para matamo ang layuning ito [It is also the duty of Meralco and other power firms to implement fair increase in electricity rates. We will coordinate to attain this goal],” he added.
In its 230-page comment and counter-petition submitted to the SC, Meralco said that because of the TRO, generation companies might refuse to sell electricity to them.
“Either way, the insufficient power supply will result in rotating blackouts, particularly during the summer months, which historically drive up the demand for electricity,” Meralco wrote.
Not enough cash
Last week, Aboitiz warned that because the P4.15 per kilowatt hour power rate hike was halted by the SC’s TRO on December 23, power plants might not have the cash to pay fuel suppliers to keep their facilities running.
“Those plants would not be able to generate power until they have cash to pay for their fuel,” Aboitiz said.
Colmenares urged the government, especially the Energy department, to guard the public against the power cartel’s “deceitful” acts.
“Ang mga consumers na nga ang niloloko ng Meralco at power generators dahil sa sobrang taas na singil sa kuryente tapos gusto pa nilang manakot ngayon [It was the consumers who have been fooled by Meralco and power generators because of the soaring electricity rates, and yet they’re the ones threatening us now],” the lawmaker said.
In 2013, Meralco became the number one company in terms of profits with P17 billion estimated earnings.
Meanwhile, Zarate said that the Electricity Power Industry Reform Act
(Epira) should be repealed as it gave no benefit to the public since its passage in 2001.
“It would be more logical to repeal Epira now and return the power industry to a fully regulated regime,” Zarate said.
The controversial policy apparently did not alleviate power rates in the country. A study by Ibon Foundation and other militant organizations published in 2011 showed that since the law was implemented, Meralco rates have increased by more than 112 percent.
The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) virtually betrayed the people when it asked to be excused from justifying Meralco’s P4.15 per kilowatt hour power rate hike, an increase the government had approved and which would have been the highest power rate hike in Philippine history.
Rep. Elpidio Barzaga of Dasmariñas City, chairman of the House Committee on Games and Amusements, expressed such sentiments a day after the Supreme Court denied OSG’s motion seeking to be excused from filing comments on behalf of state-run Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and the DOE on the petition vs. Meralco’s P4.15 per kilowatt hour power rate hike that the ERC approved but was later stayed by the High Court via a TRO.
In its motion denied by the High Court, the OSG argued that it is the ERC and the DOE, which should defend Meralco’s move.
“The OSG abandoned its mandate to respond in behalf of the ERC and the DOE on the petitions vs. the Meralco rate hike when it asked to be excused. I cannot understand the legal step taken by the OSG, considering that before the petition was lodged against the Meralco rate hike, the government said they can’t do anything about it,” Barzaga, a member of the National Unity party allied with President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s ruling Liberal Party, stressed.
The denial of OSG’s move resulted in the Supreme Court ordering the OSG to file and serve a comment on the petitions on or before January 17 by personal service and attend the initial preliminary conference on January 13.
“It is the mandate of the OSG as government representative to explain why the ERC and the Department of Energy allowed the very high power rate adjustments of Meralco. Aren’t they [OSG officials] convinced by the actions taken by ERC and DOE in allowing Meralco to impose huge electricity rate increase?” Barzaga added.
With report from Llanesca Panti