Manila city council opposes high electricity rates

Raymond Palatino of multisectoral alliance POWER hopes that City Resolution 6165, ‘A Resolution Expressing the Strong Opposition of the City Council of Manila to the High Electricity Rates Charged by Power Companies’ will inspire other city councils in Metro Manila to pass a similar measure.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – A consumer group called POWER alliance and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-National Capital Region (Bayan-NCR) applauded the decision of the Manila City Council for unanimously adopting a resolution against high electricity rates by power utility firms, particularly Manila Electric Co. (Meralco). The resolution is unprecedented.

It marked the first time a city council made an official position against soaring electricity prices in the country. With a population of 1.7 million, all consumers of Meralco, Manila is part of Mega or Metro Manila, which has the third most expensive electricity in the Asia-Pacific region.

Amid a multi-media campaign of Meralco to parry the growing criticisms of its frequent and high power rate hikes, the Manila resolution bolsters the spreading clamor “against the exorbitant rates of Meralco and power companies,” said Palatino.

Meralco has been claiming in various paid ads that it should be the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and the power generating companies who should answer for the rate hikes, even if Meralco has been named as party to a controversial case of collusion with ERC and power producers as exposed last December by the Makabayan bloc of legislators.

“We commend the local leaders of Manila for articulating the sentiments of their constituents, especially the low income households who are burdened with rising power rates,” said Raymond Palatino, former student leader and Kabataan Partylist representative, now a spokesperson of the alliance called POWER in Metro Manila.

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The City Council approved City Resolution 6165, ‘A Resolution Expressing the Strong Opposition of the City Council of Manila to the High Electricity Rates Charged by Power Companies’ on April 10, 2014, Thursday. Its principal authors are Councilors Antonio Archimedes Matias G. Capistrano, Don Juan Bagatsing, and Edward V.P. Maceda.

On behalf of POWER, Palatino praised the Manila residents, including its barangay officials, who, he said, have been actively opposing the rate hike petitions of Meralco and independent power producers.

Various barangays in Manila have conducted street actions and ‘lights out’ protests against price increases imposed by Meralco. They form part of the network of consumer alliance POWER, which successfully lobbied for the Manila City Council resolution against the high electricity rates.

With this, Palatino expressed hope that other cities in Metro Manila and nearby provinces will also approve a similar measure.

Various groups’ efforts to counter Meralco’s hikes

On the day the Manila City Council approved this unprecedented resolution against high electricity rates, workers led by the Kilusang Mayo Uno were protesting Meralco’s rate hikes in front of a Meralco business office in Quezon City.

Progressive women, meanwhile, led by Gabriela Women’s Partylist, trooped to the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) main office in Pasig City to press the ERC stop entertaining petitions for rate increases without its independent computation.

Meralco said recently that they would impose a P0.89 killowatt-hour generation charge adjustment this month (April). The April bills would go up by P178 for a typical household with a monthly consumption of 200 kWH and by P356 for a household consuming 400 per kilowatt-hour.

Meralco made the announcement five days after filing another rate hike application before the ERC.

All these proposed hikes have been met by strong criticisms by various consumer groups.

“Instead of strictly investigating every petition to raise hikes, the ERC only abets Meralco’s interest of profiting much from electricity distribution,” Rep. Emmi De Jesus told the protesting crowd assembled outside the ERC, April 10. She added that it seems consumers can expect nothing from this government except incessant hikes in electricity rates.

Only a show of widespread public protest had driven the ERC to recompute “the excessive January billing rate hike it approved previously at P4.56,” Gabriela said in a statement. From a high P4.56 rate hike, it went down to 45 centavos.

Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan noted that the ERC could protect consumers and regulate the market if it wanted to, but it apparently failed to do so until it was forced by protests. But now, the ERC seems back to its usual role of approving rate hikes, having approved the latest Meralco rate hike soon after it was filed, amid warnings and concerns raised by various progressive groups.

Gabriela expressed doubts about the ERC’s supposed promotion of competition in the energy sector. Rep Ilagan said records revealed that all the power players from generation to distribution show interlocking directorates that smell suspiciously of collusion, and allowing generating companies to toy with supply and demand, in the process making the consumers pay exorbitant rates.

No thanks to “competition,” Meralco, for example, has consistently reported billions of profits to parent company managed by Manuel V. Pangilinan. Meralco’s profit of P17.2 billion in 2013 reportedly contributed 27 percent to the parent conglomerate’s “net operating income.”

The conglomerate’s official “core net income” rose 10 percent in 2013, topping even its own “core profit guidance”. Its “net income” jumped 22 percent, it said in a briefing during a yearend shareholders’ meeting. All of these came from utilities and what used to be public-private projects such as water, power, tollroads and hospitals.

The declared profits could have been higher if Meralco had gotten away with its historical rate hike toward the latter part of the year, following a controversial case of insider trading with generation companies.

Continuing protests

The consumer group POWER Metro Manila reiterated its position that the proposed power rate hike at this time is unacceptable, for as long as there is no closure to the anomalous pricing imposed by Meralco and power companies last November and December. They added that until now, consumers have yet to be refunded from the overcharging made by Meralco. “This should be prioritized and not the new round of power rate increases proposed by Meralco,” Palatino said in a statement.

The ‘localization’ of protests (as shown by Manila local government’s opposition to high electricity rates), POWER Metro Manila said, is meant to increase pressure against Meralco and power companies, and as such, to bring down the price of electricity.

“The Manila resolution will inspire consumer groups to work harder as we prepare for the April 21 Metro Manila-wide ‘Power Off’ protest hour,” Palatino said.

Meanwhile, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares filed April 10 a motion to intervene against the proposed power rate hike by Meralco for the months of April, May and June and July.

Meralco’s computation showed that the generation charge is estimated to be nearly P6 per kilowatt hour in April compared to March, which will result in an increase of nearly P0.70 per kilowatt hour. For the month of April the power rate increase would be P0.89/kWh.

“Because of our experience where energy players nearly pulled a fast one on us, from now on the people must probe well every petition for rate hike by Meralco,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares. He cautioned the public against another case like what the power sector did in November and December.

“It seems that power rate increases is the default solution for Meralco and even the Department of Energy (DOE) every time there is an increase in the demand for electricity. All they think about is how to extract money from consumers, and not how to serve them better,” said the senior deputy minority leader.

POWER alliance urged the public to join their future protests against Meralco and power companies, saying it should not be allowed to charge higher rates, “instead they should be penalized for imposing anomalous rates.”

They dared the government of BS Aquino to stop Meralco and power companies from charging higher electricity prices. They also urged Congress to junk the Epira Law and pass a measure to nationalize the energy sector. ()

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