MANILA -- The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday clarified that the temporary restraining order (TRO) on the power rate hike only covers the November 2013 charges included only in the December billing of Manila Electric Company (Meralco).
During the SC's oral arguments, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said the 60-day TRO issued last December 23 on the P4.15 per-kilowatt-hour (kwh) rate adjustment of Meralco does not cover the January billing which has a P5.33 increase in generation charge.
Justice Marvic Leonen also expressed concern about Meralco's "misreading" of the TRO, especially after the power distributor warned of looming blackouts if the SC would not lift the order.
Speaking before the justices of the high court, Meralco lawyer Victor Lazatin said power outages will be inevitable because of the TRO when summer arrives should the generation charge remain at P5.60 per kwh.
"The fuel cost alone for bunker and diesel is approximately between P6.11 to P7.95 or almost P8. We anticipate that there will be a shortage if the SC will not lift the TRO on the generation charge and fix it at P5.60. The economic effects will include brownouts," Lazatin said.
"In the December billing, you already did the automatic pass-on, and in the January billing you also included the automatic pass-on. I'm only concerned that because of the mistake in the reading of the TRO. I hope we will not be surprised by the January billing," Leonen said.
While there are no restrictions to implement rate adjustments for January, Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla said Meralco did not do so because it is still the same case as the one stopped by the SC's TRO.
"Sa aming informal na pag-uusap, ang usapan namin, although there is no TRO, e respetuhin mo na lang kasi yung environment para January is the same. Kumbaga kung ang December na TRO may mga rason, 'yung mga kaparehong rason, nananatili pa rin para sa January. Bakit ka maghihintay pa ng TRO," he said in an interview on DZMM.
Petilla said that this should not affect the February billing, which is expected to have lower rates.
"Kung ili-link natin sa TRO ang February e baka P5.67/kwh pa rin, which should not be the case kasi ang February bumaba nga ng 13 centavos. Ito namay inanunsyo rin ng Meralco," he said.
"Ang pahiwatig nila doon sa Korte Suprema na hangga't nanatili ang TRO, para bang 'di namin ma-implement' 'yung reduction,' which is kinlaro naman ng Korte Suprema na 'di kasama 'yan wala kaming pinag-uusapan sa Pebero. Kung anong charges ng Pebrero bumaba man, ipatupad ninyo.'"
Meanwhile, Petilla believes that the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) can still come up with a decision on the issue since the SC has not released any order stopping the quasi-judicial body from doing so.
Petilla urged the ERC to decide on the issue promptly so that Meralco will have a clear basis on implementing generation charges for the months not covered by the TRO.
"Hindi rin naman pinipigilan ng Korte Suprema ang ERC na mag-imbestiga o gumawa ng desisyon. Siguro nararapat na rin na bilisan ng ERC ang pagdesisyon," he said.
However, Petilla clarified that he is not implying that ERC is the sole body that should decide on the issue of the power rate hike.
He explained that while the SC has the jurisdiction and capability over the matter, the ERC is also not barred from doing an investigation and coming out with a decision of its own.
"Kasi parang ang tinutulak ng Meralco na ang pahiwatig niya ay ibalik sa ERC ang kaso na 'to, ma-lift ang TRO. Ang sinasabi naman ng Korte Suprema ay meron naman silang kakayanan na alamin at intindihin ito," he said. "Pero siguro, inuulit ko, na without actually prejudice to the Supreme Court, ang ERC naman, siguro, pupuwede namang pabilisin ang kanilang desisyon and they are not prevented ang pagkakaintindi ko."
He added that in case the public would have issues on whatever decision ERC comes up with, the matter can still be elevated to the Supreme Court.—with reports from Ina Reformina and Alvin Elchico, ABS-CBN News