Gov’t tosses power rate hike explanation to Meralco

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

GOVERNMENT lawyers refused to comment on the controversial power rate hike in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, whose implementation was temporarily blocked by the Supreme Court.

Instead, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) passed on the responsibility to explain the P4.15 per kilowatt-hour rate increase to the Manila Electric Company (Meralco), the country's largest power distributor.

The OSG told the SC in a motion that the Department of Energy (DOE) and Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), which approved the increase on December 9, are not required to comment unless "specifically directed" as provided by Section 5, Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.

"If the judges, justices or government officers before whom the proceedings were taken are not expected to appear personally or by counsel in the appeal or special civil actions assailing their decisions or resolutions, then it is respectfully submitted that the onus of defending the acts of public respondents in the cases does not rest on the OSG, the statutory counsel of public respondents, but on the private respondent (Meralco)," stated the motion dated January 2.

The OSG was asked by the SC on Tuesday to participate in the preliminary conference next Monday that will thresh out the issues to be discussed on the oral argument on January 21.

The notice, which was sent five days after the OSG submitted its motion, also gave parties the right to waive their right to participate in the debate.

Reached for comment, Kabataan Representative Terry Ridon said the refusal of the OSG only shows that the Aquino administration would rather keep silent than defend the public against the higher electricity rate.

"It is also an admission that it (government) simply will not lift a finger to hold power utilities accountable to the public," Ridon, one of the petitioners, told Sun.Star.

"We do not agree with the Solicitor General's pleading because the ERC is one of main respondents in the power rate hike case. They (ERC) were the ones who allowed the increase and they should answer to the people," said another petitioner Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares.

Malacañang, though, supported the ongoing investigation of government agencies regarding the alleged collusion among power generators to jack up the power rate.

Civil society groups earlier said Meralco, First Gas Power Corp., San Miguel Corp., Kepco Philippines, Aboitiz Power, Team Energy Corp., AES Philippines and DMCI Holdings, Inc. must be investigated after their plants went into simultaneous and unscheduled shutdown.

This resulted in more load deficits in the Luzon grid, which forced Meralco to buy more expensive power from the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM). Meralco also cited the month-long maintenance shutdown of the Malampaya natural gas plant as basis for the increase.

Petitioners claimed the rate hike did not undergo public hearing. (Sunnex)

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