Meralco, ‘untouchable’ to most senators?

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — ARE the majority of the senators of the land quiet on Meralco’s announced power rate hike because they do not want to earn the displeasure of the Lopez family, the owner of TV-radio giant ABS-CBN, ANC and DZMM?

Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) president and general manager Winston Garcia said yesterday he doesn’t want to think so, but that “the senators’ silence on Meralco’s rate hike is deafening.”

“I’d like to think they are busy with some other equally important things,” said Garcia. “But what can be more pressing and what can be more needful of our senators’ attention than this injustice being foisted by Meralco on our people?”

Garcia said that people he had talked to had surmised that the Lopezes’ media network, especially with the 2010 elections just around the corner, may be intimidating politicians enough to keep them mum.

“The Lopezes may think of themselves as untouchables if this goes on,” he said.

The GSIS chief pressed lawmakers to probe the Energy Regulatory Commission’s approval of the 14-centavo per kilowatt hour increase in Meralco’s metering and distribution rates, saying it is “criminal and indefensible” as Meralco already charges the highest rates in the country, P2 to P3 more/kWh compared to other distributors.

He called the ERC’s approval of the Meralco rate hike petition as an “abdication” of its mandate to protect electric consumers against unjustifiable charges by utilities like Meralco.

“Where have our senators gone? Why the deafening silence on Meralco’s rate hike whose approval by the ERC was attended by secrecy and mystery?”

Meralco has been increasing its rates with alarming regularity, no thanks to its onerous power purchase agreements with its own IPPs, Garcia said.

The GSIS is a major shareholder in Lopez-controlled Meralco, which has been twice ordered by the Supreme Court to refund consumers its overcharges, including one for a whopping P30 billion.

The P30 billion represented part of Meralco’s income tax which the Supreme Court said the company passed on to consumers from 1994 to 2002.

“Meralco enjoys economies of scale and volume discounts as it distributes 60 percent of all power produced in the country to its captive market of 4.4 million customers,” the GSIS chief said.

“We urge ERC to reconsider its approval of Meralco’s rate hike, while reviewing Meralco’s onerous purchase contracts with its own IPPs,” Garcia said. “The rentals paid by Meralco alone to these IPPs cost its customers P20 billion a year.”

The GSIS chief said that the numerous electric cooperatives in the country are able to sell power to end-users at the range of P5 to P6/ kWh, while Meralco sells from P8 to P10/kWh, because the cooperatives buy cheaper power from the National Power Corporation.