Lights off on Feb. 17 from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., a big rally at the Supreme Court on February 18.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — Almost a week before the Temporary Restraining Order, which the Supreme Court issued against Meralco’s rate hike expires, various groups are calling on all power consumers to turn off their lights on Feb. 17 from 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm and to hold various protests against the power rate hike.
The third scheduled oral arguments on petitions questioning Meralco’s rate hike, automatic pass through of costs, and certain provisions of EPIRA, lasted nearly six hours this Tuesday, Feb 11. Lawyers representing the power industry and the Aquino government’s energy officials took turns, during the hearings at the Supreme Court, defending both the EPIRA and business practices not just of Meralco but also of EPIRA-created entities such as the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM).
“We are also calling for a big rally on Feb. 18 at the Supreme Court,” said Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairman of labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU). The workers’ group joined rallies in front of the Supreme Court along Padre Faura in Manila on the morning of the scheduled SC oral argument on the P4.15 per kilowatt-hour rate hike being pushed by the Manila Electric Company. The day before, workers and women’s groups picketed various branches of Meralco in Metro Manila, while youth group Anakbayan staged a rally near Malacañang.
As two out of three oral arguments held so far had listened to representatives and supporters of the power industry and the ERC, protesters such as the KMU are urging the public to show their anger over the rate hike. “We have to force the high tribunal to heed our demands, not those of big capitalists and the Aquino government.?
Critics of Meralco’s historic rate hike who staged a lightning rally at Malacañang the day before are wary that the ongoing Supreme Court probe on rate hike may only be a farce.
“While the Palace makes it seem that it disapproves of the P4.15 per kilowatt-hour rate hike, the high court allows MERALCO to overcharge consumers anew by allowing the firm to pass on to consumers its P14-billion debt,” Vencer Crisostomo, national chairperson of Anakbayan, said in a statement.
Crisostomo cited a worrying precedent in the SC decision concerning the questioned pass through capability of distribution utilities like Meralco.
In a 16-page ruling dated December 13, 2013, Anakbayan said the Supreme Court upheld an earlier decision of the Court of Appeals that allowed the Manila Electric Co. (MERALCO) and the National Power Corp. (NAPOCOR) to finalize a 2003 settlement agreement that would permit the distribution firm to pass on its P14-billion debt to its customers.
The current controversy being probed in the High Court is also centered on Meralco’s passing on of various costs to its customers, and the inability of government regulators to do their job when the costs being passed through appears to be tainted with price manipulation.