SC: Due process observed in Meralco rate hike

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 31 2011 07:47 PM | Updated as of Aug 01 2011 03:47 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court has rejected the bid of consumer groups for the nullification of the Energy Regulatory Commission’s (ERC) approval of Manila Electric Co.’s (Meralco) 26.9-centavo per kilowatt hour (kWh) rate hike in its distribution, supply and metering charges for 2010.

In a 16-page decision penned by Associate Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, the second division of the high court quashed the petition filed by several consumer groups that questioned the ERC’s move to allow Meralco to increase rates to P1.4917/kWh from P1.2227/kWh for the regulatory year of 2010.

The high court said the groups, National Association of Electricity Consumers for Reforms Inc. (Nasecore), Federation of Village Associations (FOVA), and Federation of Las Pinas Village Association (FOLVA), were given due process to question the rate increase contrary to claims.

“The Court is of the opinion that considering the facts in this case, including all the events that occurred both prior to and subsequent to the issuance of the December 14, 2009 decision, the ERC did not deprive petitioners of their right to be heard,” the SC ruled.

It said the petitioners failed to appear during the hearings scheduled by the ERC.

ERC issued its decision on December 14, 2009. An engineer, Robert Mallilin, eventually moved to file a motion for reconsideration.

ERC subsequently asked the consumer groups to file their comments on Mallilin’s plea. Nasecore and the others, however, begged off, saying they have already filed a similar petition before the high court.

Meralco, on the other hand, told the ERC it is willing to suspend the implementation of the rate hike absent a final ruling on the matter.

Another hearing was scheduled on February 5, 2010. Still, the petitioners did not participate in the proceedings.

“Where opportunity to be heard either through oral arguments or through pleadings is granted, there is no denial of due process. It must not be overlooked that prior to the issuance of the assailed decision, petitioners were given several opportunities to attend the hearings and to present all their pleadings and evidence…,” it said.

In effect, the high court junked the petitioners’ claims that some 4.3 million customers stand to suffer from “irreparable injury” if the ERC decision will not be annulled.

“But this asserted injury can be repaired, because had petitioners participated in the proceedings before the ERC and the latter had found merit in their appeal, the undue increase in electric bills shall be refunded to the consumers,” the SC said.

The high court, however, did not touch on the merits of the case. It noted that questions in connection with the rate hike are another matter.

“Allegations and issues in connection with the rate increases, including the question of whether Meralco improperly exceeded the 12 percent maximum rate of return provided by law, are more properly to be disposed of in another pending case…,” the SC stressed.