ONCE more the Supreme Court has ruled to serve the greater need of the nation and the people. The Supremes on Tuesday extended indefinitely the temporary restraining order (TRO) it had issued against Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) to stop it from collecting an outrageous and unprecedented power rate increase of P4.15 per kilowatt-hour (kWh).
The majority of the justices—10 against 4—voted in their en banc session in Baguio City to issue an extended TRO not only against Meralco but also the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), which last December approved the rate increase. Later, under pressure from the Palace, the ERC turned against its own approval and has asked Meralco to recalculate the increase it should seek.
The four justices in the minority (voting against extending the TRO) are 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, wrote the decision issuing the extended TRO.
In the decision, the High Court enjoins “Meralco, its agents, representatives or persons acting in its place or stead, from increasing the rates it charges to consumers.”
The TRO also covers the generation companies directly connected with the rate hike. These are 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 SC’s original TRO was issued on December 23, 2013. It expired on February 23, 2014. The Supremes then extended that TRO to April 22, yesterday. And now has extended it indefinitely.
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.
Had the High Court not stepped in, Meralco would have started collecting the first tranche of the power adjustment in December.
It was Malacañang that ordered the ERC Commissioners to turn around and reverse itself on its approval of the Meralco application to raise rates.
Malacañang praise expected
The Palace’s words of praise for the SC decision to extend the TRO were expected.
Also expected were Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla’s statement welcoming the SC decision.
Meanwhile, this and the previous TROs against the Meralco rate hike are not supposed to affect the investigations of both houses of Congress and the Justice and Energy Departments into the suspected collusion among power industry companies and other players—Meralco, the generating companies, the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) which has turned out to be not a spot market at all, the PSALM, etcetera—to milk the consuming public.
Pressure must be exerted by the public and the business and industries suffering from very high electricity prices for these investigations to get to the bottom of the case. Then the culprits should be punished.
While, as we’ve said above, the ERC commissioners now seem to be dealing with Meralco more professionally and rigorously than before, the question should still be answered: Why did the ERC not do their jobs as regulators before? Why did they nonchalantly approve immediately the outrageous rate increase of P4.15 per killowatthour obviously without investigating the matter?