TRO on power rate hike ‘only half the battle,’ says lawmaker | Inquirer News
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TRO on power rate hike ‘only half the battle,’ says lawmaker

/ 03:31 PM December 24, 2013

Bayan Muna representative Neri Colmenares. PHOTO by Nestor Corrales

MANILA, Philippines – Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares on Tuesday said the Supreme Court (SC) order halting the Manila Electric Co.’s (Meralco) power rate increase was a “welcome relief.” However, he said it is only half the battle.

“There are still two major fights: first, for the injunction to become permanent so utilities would be prohibited from charging incredibly high rates; and second, for the court to declare unconstitutional several provisions of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira),” he said in a phone interview.

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Colmenares, among the petitioners opposing the rate hike, said Meralco should also discuss with consumers how the temporary restraining order (TRO) would affect their electricity bill.

“Meralco should issue immediately a clarification on how much or which part of the charges billed this month are affected by the TRO,” he told INQUIRER.net.

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The congressman said the distribution utility should refund consumers who have paid their bills.

“There should be no disconnections this December since many are still confused as to the actual amount they should pay,” he added.

In a separate interview over Inquirer Radio 990AM, Colmenares said the high court should declare as unconstitutional the Epira provision allowing the “automatic pass-on of generation charges.”

“Why should we be automatically passed on?” he asked, saying it was the reason why Meralco’s P4.15 per kilowatt hour (kWh) increase received provisional approval from the Energy Regulatory Commission.

He said the government should require an investigation first before approving price hike proposals.

“It’s difficult for consumers to refund. It will take three years because definitely Meralco will go up to the Supreme Court and so on. However, if you reverse the process, they investigate first… And at the end of the investigation, if they find out that the rate hike is justified, the consumers of Meralco…will pay up. Because there is nothing else we could do,” he said.

Colmenares said the ERC had lost its mandate for becoming a “tool of these (energy) companies to legitimize rate increases.”

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He also questioned the role of ERC chairperson Zenaida Cruz-Ducut, a political appointee, in the agency, saying she does not have any technical expertise when it comes to the energy industry.

“The ERC should protect the interest of the consumers…Imagine it took them one working day to decide on the largest power rate increase in history!” he pointed out.

He said the simultaneous shutdown of power plants during the Malampaya natural gas plant maintenance, which resulted in higher generation costs, seemed to imply the collusion of industry players.

“If they don’t see anything suspicious in that, I don’t know how their thought process works,” Colmenares said.

RELATED STORIES:

Meralco’s staggered rate hike OK’d

Supreme Court halts power rate hike

Meralco to enforce TRO on rate hike but hints at adverse effects

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TAGS: Bayan Muna, Consumer issues, Electricity, Judiciary, MERALCO, Neri Colmenares, power rate hike, Supreme Court
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