THE Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday extended indefinitely the temporary restraining order it issued against Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) over the collection of the record power rate increase of P4.15 per kilowatt-hour (kWh).
In their en banc session in Baguio City, the justices voted 10 against 4 on the issuance of an extended TRO not only against Meralco but also the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).
The four justices who dissented were Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin and Roberto Abad.
Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe abstained because her son was a legal counsel of one of the parties involved in the case.
Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, the ponente of the case, led the issuance of the TRO.
The court enjoined “Meralco, its agents, representatives or persons acting in its place or stead, from increasing the rates it charges to consumers.”
The TRO also covered the generation companies that were directly connected with the rate hike namely: Masinloc Power Partners Co., Ltd., c/o AES Philippines, San Miguel Energy Corp., South Premiere Power Corp., First Gas Power Corp. and National Grid Corp. of the Philippines.
The first TRO issued on December 23, 2013 expired on February 23, 2014. The extended TRO expired on Tuesday.
In February this year, the SC also granted “a TRO effective immediately and for a period ending April 22, 2014 enjoining the generation companies, specifically Masinloc Power Partners Co. Ltd., c/o AES Philippines, San Miguel Energy Corp., South Premiere Power Corp., First Gas Power Corp. and the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines from demanding and collecting the deferred amounts representing the affected costs based
on the matters raised in Meralco’s December 5, 2013 letter.”
It also granted “a TRO effective immediately and for a period ending April 22, 2014 enjoining the Philippine Electricity Market Corp. from demanding and collecting the deferred amounts representing the affected costs based on the matters raised in Meralco’s December 5, 2013 letter.”
Several groups and personalities led by Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares and Rep. Carlos Zarate questioned the P4.15 per kilowatt-hour rate increase approved by the Energy Regulatory Commission late last year. If the High Court did not step in, Meralco would have started collecting the first tranche of the power adjustment in December.
Malacañang lauded the SC decision to extend the TRO, saying it will bring relief to the public.
“We welcome the decision of the Supreme Court that while we wait for a final decision on the case, an extension of the TRO would certainly provide comfort to our countrymen especially at this time when there is more consumption demand during summer,” Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla also welcomed the indefinite extension of the TRO but said in a text message he was “hoping that a final decision will eventually be issued so we can concentrate on moving forward.”
Larry Fernandez, head of utility economics at Meralco, also on Tuesday said the company accepts the order of the High Court and will continue to await its decision on the case.
“The matter involves generation costs, which distribution utilities like Meralco are mandated to pass through and reflect in consumers’ billings in accordance with relevant rules,” Fernandez added.
In the meantime, “the status quo will be observed,” Francis Saturnino Juan, ERC spokesman and executive director, said also in a text message to reporters.