SC urged to excuse ERC, DOE from defending power rate hike

By Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 08 2014 07:28 PM | Updated as of Jan 09 2014 03:28 AM

MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) has asked the Supreme Court (SC) to excuse the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and Department of Energy (DOE) from presenting any defense on the unpopular P4.15 per kilowatt hour Meralco rate adjustment being challenged before the high court.

Instead, the OSG, in a 6-page manifestation and motion dated Jan. 2, but released by the SC Public Information Office (PIO) only on Wednesday, passed on to Meralco, the private respondent, the burden of defending the controversial staggered rate hike.

"[I]t is respectfully prayed that the OSG be excused from filing the comment on behalf of public respondents Energy Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy and that the defense of the challenged action or ruling of said public respondents be undertaken by private respondent Meralco," the OSG said.

The OSG pointed out that under Sec. 5, Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, which petitioners Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, et al., and National Association of Electricity Consumers for Reforms (Nasecore) are invoking in their consolidated petitions, "it shall be the duty of... private respondents to appear and defend, both in his or their own behalf and in behalf of the public respondent or respondents affected by the proceedings."

"Unless otherwise specifically directed by the court where the petition is pending, the public respondents shall not appear in or file an answer or comment on the petition or any pleading therein.

"If the case is elevated to a higher court by either party, the public respondents shall be included therein as nominal parties. However, unless otherwise specifically directed by the court, they shall not appear or participate in the proceedings therein," the OSG said, citing into Sec. 5 of the Rules.

ORAL ARGUMENTS PRELIMINARY CONFERENCE SET

On Tuesday, in a two-page notice issued by SC En Banc Clerk of Court Enriqueta Vidal, the high court ordered petitioners and respondents to attend the Jan 13 preliminary conference on the scheduled oral arguments on the rate hike petitions on Jan 21.

The preliminary conference is intended to limit the presentation of each petitioner and respondent during the oral arguments.

In the notice, the high court directed any party to submit a manifestation on or before Jan. 13 should they decide to waive their right to participate in the oral arguments.

Petitioners slammed the new rate adjustment for having been approved without due notice and hearing; they also found baseless the reason for the hike cited by Meralco: the maintenance of the Malampaya natural gas platform.

Petitioners told the high court that the maintenance was scheduled, which should have given Meralco sufficient time to address the expected power supply shortage.

Power consumers also expressed dismay at the rate adjustment, the first tranch of which was felt in the December Meralco billing.

Power consumers interviewed by ABS-CBN News said the hike came as a shock, and that they had no time to set aside money for the increase in their December power bill.