Solons back gov’t in row vs Meralco

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — EVEN a member of the opposition bloc at the House of Representatives yesterday underscored the need for the government to place the Lopez-led Manila Electric Company under its control to lower electricity rates.

Laguna Rep. Justin Marc Chipeco, a stalwart of the Nacionalista Party, said it is imperative for the government to look for all means to bring down electricity rates amid the soaring costs of petroleum products and the rice situation.

Chipeco said the high cost of electricity is bad for business and the general public. The country’s power rates are the second highest in East Asia after those of Japan .

However, the Laguna solon urged the government to exercise “great caution”in seeking control of Meralco.

“Electricity is vital in a growing economy. The expensive electric rates slows its development and as a national concern, government has to somewhat take control (while) taking note also of the rights of the company,” he said.

He also stressed that Malacañang has all the right to question the lack of transparency of Meralco management the government being one of the major stockholders of the utility firm.

“The dispute in Meralco is purely a corporate matter. But the government, which has interests, can question how it is being managed,” he added.

The government has a 33 percent stake in Meralco of which 23 percent is owned by the Government Service and Insurance System.

On Monday, Speaker Prospero “Boy” Nograles and Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile expressed strong support for Malacañang’s possible takeover of Meralco if the situation calls for it.

Earlier, Executive Secrectary Eduardo Ermita said the Palace would be constrained to push for the takeover of Meralco if the Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision on the government’s omnibus petition will not be favorable to Meralco customers. The ERC was scheduled to hear the petition yesterday.

Ermita cited the takeover option in the wake of a feud between Meralco and the GSIS which has demanded full transparency and accountability in the operations of the power distribution giant and charged its management with inefficiency.

GSIS president Winston Garcia deplored the alleged refusal of Meralco to give the pension fund access to corporate documents despite its having four seats in the utility company’s 11-member board.

No politics

Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez yesterday appealed to his colleagues, especially to the opposition, not to put political color in the dispute between Malacañang and Meralco.

In a statement, Suarez, a member of Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino, emphasized that the sole purpose of Malacañang and the GSIS is to lower the high cost of electricity.

The solon also said that it is only right to determine if Meralco is following good corporate practices.

“To defend Meralco, whose high rates are making life doubly hard for our people, runs against the grain of many of my colleagues’ avowed stance in the past,” Suarez said.

”Thus, I am puzzled why they have dropped their populist positions all of a sudden to defend Meralco by mouthing its line that the government is out to wrest control of the company,” Suarez added.

Suarez is reacting to earlier statements by the militant solons claiming that Malacañang’s move against Meralco is politically- motivated.

Bayan Muna Reps. Teddy Casiño and Satur Ocampo both opposed a government takeover of Meralco, charging that Malacañang is out to deprive the Lopezes of their prime economic holding in retaliation for the latter’s perceived support for the opposition through its influential media outfit ABS-CBN network.

They said Malacañang’s other agenda is to use Meralco as its milking cow to finance possible administration candidates.

But Suarez said that there is nothing wrong with seeking the opening of Meralco’s books as demanded by its biggest stakeholder, the GSIS.

“There must be transparency to see whether the Meralco-Lopez IPP deals are legal and whether or not Meralco is purchasing power at the least cost to its captive market, as mandated by its franchise and the EPIRA,” Suarez said.