Stay order extension sought

Posted on February 13, 2014

PARTY-LIST legislators yesterday asked the Supreme Court (SC)to extend the restraining order against the hefty power rate hike of the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), saying the implementation of the increase could spike consumer prices.

In an 11-page motion, legislators from the so-called Makabayan bloc sought to stop the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and Meralco from implementing the P4.15-per-kilowatt-hour increase, which the SC ordered to be shelved last Dec. 23.

The 60-day temporary restraining order (TRO) will expire on Feb. 21.

"The impending implementation of the power rate increase will not only unduly deprive five million consumers of their hard-earned income, it will also fuel inflation and further set the economy back by spurring hikes in consumer prices, this time affecting the people of the entire country," the motion stated.

The petitioners also asked to stop generation companies (GenCos) and suppliers from collecting generation charges incurred during the November supply period.

The lawmakers reiterated in the motion the reasons why the rate hike should be deferred and eventually voided: the alleged collusion of Meralco and GenCos, the purported failure of the ERC raise red flags when the generation charges spiked and the latter’s failure to afford due process to consumers when the increase was approved without the requisite notices of publication and hearing.

"Sans a restraining order, respondent Meralco will be able to deprive its customers of P22.64 billion in additional generation costs, needless to state, to the grave and irreparable injury of millions of Meralco’s customers including the petitioners," the motion read.

Petitioners likewise disputed Meralco’s warning of massive blackouts if the rate hike is not implemented, saying the Department of Energy already announced that there will be enough supply during the summer months.

Asked to comment, Meralco First Vice-President and Legal Department Head William S. Pamintuan said: "While we have not yet seen a copy of the petition, Meralco is hopeful that in lieu of further extending the TRO, the case can be remanded to the regulator, ERC, to expedite the conduct of the determination of the propriety of the WESM (Wholesale Electricity Spot Market) prices and the resulting generation charge."

"These processes will enable parties and stakeholders concerned including the consumers to participate."

The SC on Tuesday concluded oral arguments on the hefty rate increase. Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes P.A. Sereno has ordered the parties to submit their respective memoranda discussing the issues raised during the hearing.

Meralco’s controlling stakeholder, Beacon Electric Asset Holdings, Inc., is partly owned by Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT). Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has a majority stake in BusinessWorld. -- Mikhail Franz E. Flores