THE Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday extended for another 60 days the temporary restraining order (TRO) it imposed late last year on the Manila Electric Company’s planned power rate increase amid protests from various groups.
Faced by public petitions seeking to delay the P4.15 per kilowatt hour hike, the Court en banc stretched the existing TRO until April 22, 2014 from the original expiration date of February 23, 2014. The high court’s first TRO was issued on December 23, 2013.
The SC granted “a TRO effective immediately and for a period ending April 22, 2014 enjoining the generation companies, specifically Masinloc Power Partners Co., Ltd., [which is a unit]of AES Philippines, San Miguel Energy Corporation, 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 (PEMC) from demanding and collecting the deferred amounts representing the affected costs based on the matters raised in Meralco’s December 5, 2013 letter.”
Multi-sectoral groups, through petitions, denounced the looming power rate hike, saying that would trigger an increase in the prices of basic commodities.
They claimed such hike would compel business establishments to adjust upward the prices of their products with the staggering electricity charges.
Aside from placing an additional burden on consumers, the petitioners said the power rate hike was unconstitutional and would have an irreversible impact.
Meanwhile, Eneregy Secretary Jericho Petilla appealed to the Supreme Court and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to fast-track their decision-making on the proposed December rate hike to avoid bigger problems in the country’s power supply.
“The solution here is to decide on the proper amount as quickly as anybody can.… It’s a decision that we are waiting for right now. The final decision will come from the ERC and the Supreme Court,” Petilla told reporters on the sidelines of the Consultative Dialogue on Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) review held Tuesday.
“The question is, if the P4.15 [hike]is still on TRO, how about the January rate of P5.30 per kWh increase? If I were to make a decision, I would decide on the P4.15 increase immediately because the decision on this would also be the decision on the January billing. So there wouldn’t be a lot of computation and all of this would be resolved” immediately, he added.
According to Petilla, as long as the right amount has not been determined, the problem would linger.
“In other words, if we can respond to the problem in the rates, the better that will be because that will eliminate the uncertainty,” Petilla said.
“Sa ngayon kasi wala pa talagang klarong rason para i-lift ang TRO [There is still no clear reason why the TRO should be lifted],” he added.
To date, Meralco owes generation companies (gencos) through the PEMC a combined amount of about P13.5 billion, of which P6 billion is for the December supply and the remaining P7.5 billion for the January supply.
Commenting on fears about possible power interruptions due to unpaid bills, Petilla said he is not worried about such risk as far as the generation companies are concerned, given that the extension of the TRO will only lead to another round of negotiations among Meralco and the gencos.