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SC to power firms: Heed requirements before disconnecting users

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) said electric companies must follow all legal requirements before they disconnect and charge consumers due to metering devices that were allegedly tampered with.

In a 22-page decision penned by SC Associate Justice Marvic Lenonen, the SC said companies cannot charge customers for electricity allegedly used but not yet charged, if the firms failed to inspect and repair electric meters.

"It is well-settled that electricity distribution utilities, which rely on mechanical devices and equipment for the orderly undertaking of their business, are duty-bound to make reasonable and proper periodic inspections of their equipment. If they are remiss in carrying out this duty due to their own negligence, they risk forfeiting the amounts owed by the customers affected," Lenonen said.

The decision stemmed from a case between Manila Electric Company (Meralco) and Nordec Philippines. Meralco had overbilled Nordec Philippines some P5,625 in 1987, though its electricity supply was switched off.

"It is also worth noting that during a third inspection on November 23, 1987, further irregularities in Nordec's metering devices were observed, showing electricity consumption even when Nordec's entire power supply equipment was switched off. Clearly, Meralco had been remiss in its duty as required by law and jurisprudence of a public utility," the SC said.

The SC said Meralco failed to comply with the 48-hour disconnection rule and to discover tampered and defective meters during the prescribed 4-moth inspection period. It also said Meralco was "duty-bound" to explain the basis for its billings.

"The serious consequences on a consumer, whose electric supply has been cut off, behoove a distribution utility to strictly comply with the legal requisites before disconnection may be done. This is all the more true considering Meralco's dominant position in the market compared to its customers' weak bargaining position," read the decision.

The SC ordered Meralco to pay Nordec the overbilled charges of P5,625 and P30,000 in nominal damages and costs of the suit. – Rappler.com