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Volume 3,  Number 15              May 18 - 24, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


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Power Consumers Say ERC is Siding Again with Meralco on Cash Refund

Forced to heed a recent Supreme Court ruling or face contempt, Meralco will either refund only a fraction of the billions the power utility firm has  collected illegally from millions of consumers or is planning to make the refund in trickles within a long period of nine years. The Meralco position, apparently supported by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), has been assailed by organized power consumers as “totally unacceptable” and “unfair.”

By Gerry Albert Corpuz









Anakpawis spokesperson Sammy Malunes (extreme left) and beside him, Dr. Giovanni Tapang, Power convenor, and others clench their fists while a giant replica of Meralco bill is set aflame by another activist outside the ERC office in Makati.                


Photo by Arkibong Bayan


"A carbon copy of the Meralco proposal."

This was the assertion of UP-Diliman based physics professor Dr. Giovanni Tapang regarding the decision of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC)ordering the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) to refund customers consuming 100 kilowatt-hours per month and below.

Tapang said over the weekend the ERC did not consider his group's proposal on how the cash refund should be carried out by ERC and Meralco. "We were invited to a 'hearing' called by ERC last week to discuss how the Supreme Court decision should be implemented only to find out that the commission had already approved Meralco's petition without giving weight to our proposal," he said.

Tapang, one of the convenors of People Opposed to Warrantless Electricity Rates (Power) and chair of the scientists group Agham, said the decision was pro-Meralco adding it was tainted with serious flaws and shortcomings. "It was the handiwork of a president and regulatory body that prefer to lawyer for Meralco rather than advance the interest of the aggrieved public," he said.

The ERC which found Meralco's proposal "reasonable" ordered the Lopez-owned power utility firm to refund consumers consuming 100 kilowatt-hours per month and below and stop collecting the 16.7 centavos per kWh in excess charge that Meralco started to collect in 1994.

Data obtained from Meralco reveal that consumers using 50 kWh per and less will be entitled to a refund of P 354, while those consuming 50 kWh and 60 kWh will get an average of P866 pesos, 61 kWh to 70 kWh (P1,120), 71 kWh to 80 kWh (P1,176), 81 kWh to 90 kWh ( P1,131), and 91 kWh to 100 kWh ( P1, 487).

But Power's Tapang said the P354 Meralco would refund to consumers using 50 kWh was a far cry compared to Power's P1,215.66. He said users consuming 100kWh should get at least P 2,431.31 and not P1, 487 according to Tapang's estimates.

Consumers who fall on this bracket represent 1.475 million of Meralco's 3.9 million customers or 37 percent, though they just comprise 4 percent of Meralco's sales. Meralco is expected to submit another proposal on May 24 for consumers using 101 kWh and above. Reports said the power utility firm will propose in the next meeting with ERC to pay consumers within the bracket for a period of nine years.

Tapang charged that the ERC order was poisonous to and perhaps in full contravention of the consumers' victory in the Supreme Court. He said the ERC failed to determine how much would be the total amount to be  refunded from the 16.7 centavos per kilowatt-hour overcharge declared by the high tribunal as illegal.

Refund all

Meanwhile, Renato Reyes, Jr., spokesperson of Bayan, assailed the ERC and presidential office for “not being serious” in implementing the Supreme Court (SC) ruling on the refund issue, saying that government’s “promise of a selective refund is a betrayal of public interest.”

“When Meralco wants us to pay our bills and we can’t, Meralco does not hesitate to disconnect our electricity,” he said. “Now Meralco is asking us for an unreasonable period of nine years before the receive the full amount of refund. That is totally unacceptable and unfair.”

Similarly, the worker-peasant political group Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) is not pleased with ERC's decision to implement cash refund for Meralco consumers using 100 kWh and below. While the group considered the decision for cash refund and immediate scrap in the collection of 16.7 centavos as “initial victory” for Meralco consumers, the fight for immediate lump-sum cash refund for all residential consumers should push through.

Anakpawis led a series of mass actions in ERC last week to demand for lump sum cash refund to all residential consumers and immediate halt in the collection of 16.7 centavos declared by the high tribunal as illegal.

Cherry Clemente, Anakpawis secretary general, said residential consumers are entitled to immediate lump sum cash refund. "We would block any Meralco's proposal that would deprive residential consumers from obtaining a well-deserved refund," she said after a report came out that Meralco would ask the ERC to have other consumers paid within the next nine years.

Clemente said her group would keep a highly-visible and vigilant mode on ERC saying the commission has been politically flirting with Meralco over issues raised against Meralco which include but not limited to Power Purchase Adjustment (PPA), overpricing, cash refund to mention some.

Anakpawis agreed with Power that the ERC decision based on Meralco's proposal deprived two-thirds of Meralco's residential consumers of a lump sum refund. The group said ERC's decision was anti-poor since many urban poor families share one electric meter and their regular consumption was over 100 kWh per month and therefore ERC's order would deny them the right to avail of cash refund next month.

P38 billion, not P30 billion

Labor leader and Anakpawis spokesperson Sammy Malunes said Meralco should return P38 billion not P30 billion. Citing Agham-Power's study, Malunes said the P38 billion pesos in total refund includes the recomputed Currency Exchange Rate Adjustment (CERA) levied on the basic charge and the six percent annual interest for the use of accumulated fund from excess charges.

"Meralco should stop presenting its own assessment of the refund because it is extremely bias to the Lopez group (who own Meralco). The 3.9 million consumers of Meralco are entitled to P38 billion, not P30 billion," Malunes said.

Anakpawis said there was no truth to Meralco's claim that it could not refund or pay cash to millions of aggrieved customers because it is cash-strapped and suffering from heavy losses in its previous operations. " Tell that to the marines," Malunes said.

Anakpawis said Meralco has P11 billion set aside for contingent liability fund in which the company has readied for such purpose. The group said Meralco has to shell out over P13 billion in refunding all residential consumers and it could use the contigent liability fund to pay residential customers availing of cash refund.

Credit grabbing 

Militants said Malacañang, Meralco and the ERC would try to strike their own claim to fame following the decision to reimburse customers with cash refunds and the writing off of the 16.7 centavos in the next billing cycle.

Power said just like President Arroyo, ERC chair Manuel Sanchez is only interested in earning "pogi points" out of the hyped pro-poor refund while obviously moving heaven and earth to stall the total payment of P 38 B in overcharges.

For its part, Anakpawis said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the new ERC chair must cease and desist from credit grabbing and merit taking.

"Who are they to strike their own claim to fame where in fact they were never on the side of the consumers since the start of this colossal fight against Meralco? The people would have their own victory party in the streets once they obtain the full P38 billion in refund. As for GMA and Sanchez, we will just tell them that gatecrashers are not welcome," the group added.
With a report by Aubrey Makilan/Bulatlat.com

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