Groups welcome TRO extension, urges Supreme Court to void rate hike

“Meralco’s core net income yielded rates of return on equity of 22 percent and 26 percent in 2011 and 2012, respectively— way in excess of the 12 percent reasonable rate of return determined by the Supreme Court.” – Marcelo Tecson, former financial and management service chief of the Department of Energy

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – With the expiration of TRO (temporary restraining order) issued by the Supreme Court against Meralco’s unusually high power rate hike for Dec. 2013, various groups reiterated calls against the said hike by holding coordinated protest actions all over Metro Manila. Today, April 22, they held a rally in front of the Supreme Court.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares urged the Supreme Court to protect consumers by voiding the proposed Meralco power rate hike and declaring the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) as unconstitutional.

By 6 p.m., the Supreme Court voted 14-0 for the indefinite extension of the original TRO that expired today. The decision was welcomed by progressive groups.

Protesters denounce Meralco's 'greed' and how it's given free rein by EPIRA, Apr 21 (Screengrab from Vencer Crisostomo's Facebook)
Protesters denounce Meralco’s ‘greed’ and how it’s given free rein by EPIRA, Apr 21 (Screengrab from Vencer Crisostomo’s Facebook)

“We hope that it would now rule with finality on our petition to void the power rate increase and declare EPIRA unconstitutional,” said Colmenares.

“We urge the Court to swiftly resolve the issues we’ve brought before it. We hope it will side with the people in declaring grave abuse of discretion on the part of Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) in failing to prevent the unprecedented price hike and, more importantly, declare the privatization of power generation as unconstitutional,” said ACT Teachers Party Rep. Antonio Tinio.

Earlier, various groups conducted mass actions to protest the “unjustified” electricity rate hikes. The POWER-National Capital Region held a caravan on April 21, joined by workers allied with the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) who also picketed Meralco’s main office along Ortigas Avenue as well as other Meralco branches in Metro Manila.

Their combined caravan the day before assembled at Welcome Rotonda and drove to the Energy Regulatory Commission’s office in Pasig City, then proceeded to Mendiola and the Supreme Court in the afternoon. By evening, these groups led the simultaneous lights-off protest in the Metro hoping to bring attention to this issue. They said their lights-off covered the whole stretch of Batasan Road and Frisco in Quezon City; Trabajo Market, communities in Sta. Mesa and Balic Balic in Manila; Palatiw in Pasig City; Poblacion in Muntinlupa; among others.

Trabajo Market powers off against electricity rate hike, Apr 21 (Screengrab from Anakbayan Metro Manila's Facebook)
Trabajo Market powers off against electricity rate hike, Apr 21 (Screengrab from Anakbayan Metro Manila’s Facebook)

Greed fueling the hike

The KMU blamed the “greed for bigger profits” of big capitalists in the power sector for the increasing electricity rates.

Using data posted on the Internet, Marcelo Tecson, a certified public accountant and former financial and management service chief of what is now the Department of Energy (DOE), said that Meralco is engaged in excessive and unconstitutional profit-taking. He cited as proof how the company’s profit-taking goes way beyond the “reasonable rate of return” approved by the Supreme Court in 2002.

He said Meralco’s core net income yielded rates of return on equity of 22 percent and 26 percent in 2011 and 2012, respectively— way in excess of the 12 percent reasonable rate of return determined by the Supreme Court.

As such, Tecson said, Meralco still does not deserve to be allowed to increase its rate because its rate of return should first be brought down toward acceptable levels. Allowing Meralco to increase rates amid such an excessive profit-taking is not only unreasonable, he said, it is also a violation of the Supreme-Court-cited “right of our people to electricity and to be reasonably charged for their consumption.” (Same G.R. No. 141314, November 15, 2002)

Indeed, the pricing reported and used as basis by Meralco and power companies to increase rates last November and December have been assailed as “anomalous”, as the subsequent recomputation of it by the Energy Regulatory Commission also implied. This prompts critics to question the subsequent electricity rate hikes.

“We maintain our position that the proposed power rate hike this April and May is unacceptable as long as there is no closure to the anomalous pricing imposed by Meralco and power companies last November and December,” Raymond Palatino, spokesperson of POWER! Metro Manila.

Palatino also scored Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla for issuing statements criticizing protest actions.

‘If not for the protests, we would never have known that Meralco and power producers colluded with government officials last November and December to impose anomalous electricity rates,” Palatino said. Due to the protests, Meralco and power companies have been forced to substantially reduce generation charges.

“We need more protests instead of public officials acting as spokespersons of big business,” Palatino concluded.
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