Govt firms to vote as one in Meralco

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE government firms holding equity in Manila Electric Co. are moving to strengthen their hold on the power distributor to force it to open its books and eventually to change its management, Malacañang said yesterday.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the state firms led by the Government Service Insurance System planned to consolidate their shares before Meralco’s stockholders’ meeting on May 26 to vote as one.

But he stressed the Palace had no intention of taking over the country’s biggest power distributor.

“The general manager of GSIS [Winston Garcia] has his own position on the matter, and he will initiate a meeting with other stakeholders in Meralco—including the Development Bank of the Philippines and the Land Bank of the Philippines,” Ermita said.

“But it is not the intention of the President to have a takeover.”

In other developments:

  • The Energy Department said it was keeping its hands off the feud between Meralco and GSIS, the pension fund holding a big stake in the power firm but is unhappy about its alleged high rates
  • The Energy Regulatory Commission has asked the Trade Department to state exactly in its petition how the government plans to bring down power rates
  • House Speaker Prospero Nograles backed Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago’s call for a joint hearing of important issues including Meralco’s power rates.

“Indeed,” Ermita said when asked if government-owned- and-controlled corporations would combine their shares in Meralco and vote as one during its stockholders’ meeting.

“[If they consolidate] , it would be something like 33 percent, almost the same with the Lopezes,” Ermita said.

“If there is intent that they can run Meralco, that is still a big if. They are exhausting first all efforts so Meralco could first agree to what they are asking for, which is access to [its books].”

GSIS owns 23 percent of Meralco’s shares of stock while other government entities hold a combined 10 percent.

But the Lopez group has steadily increased its Meralco holdings, starting with the purchase of the shares held by partner Union Fenosa International S. A. of Spain to initially boost its stake to 22.86 percent.

First Philippine Holdings Corp., a member of the Lopez group, later bought an additional 6.6-percent stake, bringing to 32 percent the total equity held by the Lopez clan.

“We do not want to preempt their decision. They are government corporations and whatever decision is made, you can be very sure it is for the benefit of the majority of consumers, especially the poor ones,” Ermita said.

“There is no directive for them to move to change the leadership [of Meralco], but they do not have to receive any guidelines from the Palace. They know the issues.”