Group seeks 2nd TRO vs Meralco

MANILA, Philippines – Two groups have in a matter of two days petitioned the Supreme Court (SC) to halt the controversial price hike by the Manila Electric Co (Meralco).

A new set of petitioners before the SC sought on Friday, December 20, a temporary restraining order (TRO) against what they call an "oppressive" electricity rate increase, a day after leftist lawmakers did the same. 

Challenging the validity of the price hike, representatives of the National Association of Electricity Consumers (Nasecore), the Federation fo Village Association (FOVA), and the Federation of Las Piñas Homeowners Association said the P4.15-per-killowatt-hour (kWh) December increase is against public interest.   

The increase resulted from the shutdown of the Malampaya gas field and outages of power plants where Meralco sources its power requirements from. Meralco was forced to source power from plants that uses diesel, which is more expensive than natural gas.

The petitioners, who are suing as Meralco subscribers, demanded for a refund of the paid increase and a nullification of all orders sanctioning automatic power rate adjustments.

Respondents of the class suit were Meralco, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), and the Department of Energy (DOE). The Makabayan lawmakers who sought for a TRO on Thursday excluded the DOE as respondent in its petition.

Meralco on Friday said the Philippine Electricity Market Corp (PEMC), acting as the market operator that governs the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market where it sourced its power requirements following the shutdown of the Malampaya gas facility, must also be included as respondent in petitions filed. 

The power distribution firm explained that the increase came from the generation charge – the cost of electricity production – and not from the distribution cost. No profit is gained from charges in distribution, said Meralco.

“Case should not be filed versus Meralco only but should be directed to PEMC who is billing Meralco for the increase in generation cost,” explained Meralco Senior Vice President and Head of Customer Retail Services and Corporate Communications Alfredo Panlilio.

Due process

Like the Makabayan lawmakers, the petitioners cited "abuse of discretion" by the ERC in its approval of the staggered increase of the generation component of the price hike.

Approved by ERC on December 9, Meralco rates will increase by P2.41 kWh in December 2013, P1.21 kWh in February 2014, and P0.53 kWh in March.

The petitioners alleged that ERC's approval came without the benefit of a notice or hearing involving the public, who are to bear the brunt of the increase. This, they said, amounted to "lack or excess of jurisdiction." 

In the 35-page petition, petitioners argued that "the requirement of publication" is an "essential element of due process."

The petition filed by lawmakers on Thursday, on the other hand, cited the simultaneous and unscheduled outages in different power plants of Meralco's suppliers as a concern for judicial review.

Several quarters questioned the shutting down of the plants simultaneously as they said a possible collusion happened, sabotaging market competition.

In January 2014, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office for Competition – ordered by Justice Secretary de Lima to conduct a probe into the matter – will file a report outlining recommendations resulting from its investigation. A review of existing energy laws or a passage of a new one may be recommended, said de Lima.

Akbayan Partylist Rep Walden Bello, who is among the petitioners before the DOJ, said "there is strong circumstantial evidence" that a possible collusion among the power firms occured.

Bello also called on President Benigno Aquino III "to exercise his moral authority" by asking Meralco to reverse its "unprecedented" price hike. –