Palace rejects Meralco TRO plea

MANILA, Philippines – "The government believes that unjustifiable price hikes should not be passed on to the people. Therefore, the proposed petition for the lifting of the TRO is not consistent with the public interest."

This is the statement of Malacañang a day after the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) asked the Supreme Court (SC) to lift the temporary restraining order (TRO) and deny the request for injunction on its record-high power rate hike.

On Wednesday, February 5, Presidential Communications and Operations Office Secretary Sonny Coloma voiced the Palace's disapproval of Meralco's request, adding collusion among power players can be considered abuse of market power.

"The electric power industry is imbued with public interest. Public interest dictates that electric service be provided continuously and without unjustified interruption," he said.

Coloma said Malacañang believes the Malampaya maintenance shutdown that triggered the power rate hike was a "foreseeable event for which Meralco and other industry players should have prepared."

He added, "the President also believes in enforcing the provision of the EPIRA (Electric Power Industry Reform Act) on possible disgorgement of profits" if current investigations establish collusion among industry players.

While the Palace called the power interruption "unjustified" however, it said it is not prejudging the parallel probe being conducted by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), whose investigations on the sudden power rate hike is ongoing.

Coloma insisted "there is no partiality or there is no preconceived notion or premature conclusion," despite strong Palace statements against Meralco and suspected collusion among power industry players.

The Palace also vowed it is not pre-empting or interfering with the probes.

"The DOE and the DOJ are pursuing their parallel investigations without any interference from the Office of the President or from any other office, because we want an objective and impartial determination of the facts, so that the proper conclusions may be reached and that these conclusions will serve the public interest," he said.

Meralco was set to implement in December a rate increase of P4.15 per kilowatt-hour rate, the highest in history. This was after the simultaneous shutdown of its suppliers forced it to purchase more power from the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) at high prices.

The power distributor was supposed to impose the increase in 3 tranches starting December, but the SC issued a TRO, granting the petition of groups, which claimed the hike was against public interest.

But Meralco has argued that the utility firm "took measures to mitigate the effects of the shutdowns of several power plants and the resulting increase in generation charges" even when it was not required by law. The measures came in the form of staggered billing of Meralco customers.

They added that it was tied down by WESM rules.

Malacañang said it could not tell when the probes would conclude, but said it is being conducted with a sense of "urgency." - Rappler.com