SC asked to extend TRO on Meralco price hike

MANILA, Philippines – The leftist Makabayan bloc on Wednesday, February 12 filed before the Supreme Court (SC) a motion to extend the temporary restraining order (TRO) on the controversial price hike of the Manila Electric Company (Meralco).

The TRO is valid for 60 days and will end on February 21. 

Citing possible inflation of charges, the lawmakers asked for the extension and a possible preliminary injunction upon the expiration of the TRO.  

"These increases should be voided and the culprits ordered to pay for their greed. These rate increases cannot be imposed by the guilty on the innocent," the 11-page motion read. 

Petitioners cited the continuous finger-pointing of participants in the power industry sector.

"In the end, Meralco blames all the energy players except itself. In turn, the government through PSALM, the GENCOs and all the energy players for that matter blame Meralco, in a continuous exchange of fault-finding that only confuses rather than explains," the petitioners said.

Meralco has maintained that "it does not derive a single centavo of profit" from the generation charges, which comprised the hike.

In their petition, the leftist lawmakers also asked that the High Court to prevent generation and supply companies from collecting the generation charges.

The generation cost or the cost of producing electricity is billed by generation companies and collected from consumers by distribution firms like Meralco.

Oral arguments

The SC has heard oral arguments on the record-high rate increase.

On the first day of the hearing, petitioners accused Meralco of jacking up prices at Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) when the distribution firm allegedly nominated the sale of its contracted power supply with Therma Mobile Inc

During Meralco's turn to defend itself, it asked for the lifting of the TRO on the hike. Meralco's lawyers Victor Lazatin and retired Justice Florentino Feliciano said the issues raised by the petitioners are policy issues that have already been addressed during the framing of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act in Congress.

They added that the administrative remedy of appealing before the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) should have been availed of by the petitioners.

The ERC and the Department of Energy (DOE), during the third day of oral arguments, was grilled by the SC justices for approving the hike despite questionable circumstances last December 9, 2013.

ERC maintains that it did not commit grave abuse of discretion when it approved the staggered rate increase, saying its approval exempted Meralco from a rule that allows Meralco to automatically adjust rates.