Labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May First Movement) yesterday asked the power distributor Meralco to stop imposing additional power rates and instead refund around P7 billion (or more than US$157m) overcharges that it had collected from over 4 million Meralco customers in 2004 and 2007.
Since last month, Meralco had been imposing “staggering increases” in power rates after the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) approved its petition for increases, said KMU in a statement. Generation, transmission and distribution charges have all increased, resulting to an almost doubled electricity bill for lifeline customers and those consuming 101 kWh per month.
“Meralco is conveniently using the so-called power shortage problem to rake in more profits even as it still owes us billions in overcharging,” said KMU chairman Elmer Labog. He added that the Lopez-owned power distributor is both ‘shortchanging and overcharging’ its customers at the same time.
“Why would we pay more for electricity when we are also being made to suffer from one to three hours of rotating brownouts? Meralco should be giving rebates to its customers instead,” Labog emphasized.
“Not Reasonable and Necessary” Costs Passed on to Consumers
In its 2009 audit report on the private power facility, the Commission on Audit noted that certain operating expenses of Meralco amounting to P3.48 billion (over US$78m) and P2.92 billion (US$66m) for 2004 and 2007, respectively, were not considered recoverable from consumers as these were “not reasonable and necessary in the delivery of distribution services.”
COA auditors found out that billions worth of property and equipment included in Meralco’s rate base were “not used or useful” in operations. These included a P526.2-million (US$12m) creek and a P156-million (almost US$4m) parking lot. The utility had also charged consumers for the pension costs and benefits of its employees amounting to P2.4 billion (US$54m).
The labor group also lashed at the ERC for ‘sitting on the COA report.’ “ERC should have called for public hearings on the COA audit on Meralco but instead, it allowed Meralco to hike generation charges by P1.83 (US$0.0412) per kWh. ERC is supposed to be the ‘regulatory’ body for power rates but it is ensuring Meralco’s superprofits. Meralco can give rebates, but only if the ERC upholds the COA report,” said Labog.
In 2009, Meralco recorded a 169% increase in consolidated income mainly due to increased electricity sales from residential and commercial customers.
Labog added, “We know that all of Meralco’s operation costs come from consumers. Our question now is: Is the house of ABS-CBN’s top rating show PINOY BIG BROTHER paying for its own electricity consumption, or are Meralco consumers subsidizing the power usage of its housemates?”
KMU and Anakpawis Partylist vow to continue launching protest actions to press Meralco to refund its customers.