The continuing saga in the battle royale between the Lopezes and GSIS President Winston Garcia is becoming uglier everyday. From the fight for winning over proxy votes during Meralco’s annual stockholders meeting last May, the battle shifted to winning over the votes of justices presiding over the Meralco case lodged at the Court of Appeals (CA). And in a nasty turn of events, the battle reached the Supreme Court on the issue of bribery involving a CA justice and a businessman allegedly brokering for Meralco.

The Freedom from Debt Coalition believes that what we are witnessing right now is merely an extension of an ongoing power play in the power industry – with the Lopez empire staging a ‘counter-strike’ against the Palace’s backed ‘power-grab’ by Winston Garcia for control of Meralco, the largest distribution utility in the country today.

In hindsight, the allegations that money flowed from both parties to buy proxy votes during the annual stockholders meeting of Meralco may now be a forgone conclusion. Anyway, the issue was purely an intra-corporate matter that is better left to the wisdom of Meralco’s own stockholders. But the issue of alleged bribery now hounding not only the CA but the whole judiciary extends beyond Meralco. It is corruption in the highest sense borne out of the current power play in the power industry.

On the other hand, power is an infamous industry constantly rocked by corruption scandals. From the rigged transactions in building the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant in the 70s and 80s to the onerous IPP contracts of the 90s; from the ‘payola’ scandal attending the passage of the Omnibus Power Bill (now the Electric Power Industry Reform Act) in 2000 to the notorious Impsa deal in 2001; from the P10-M ‘bonuses’ received by PSALM officials in 2004 from the botched privatization of Masinloc power plant to recent allegations of corruption in the supply of coal to Napocor.

Hence, a new allegation of bribery is definitely not new to the industry. Corruption in the industry permeating through all three branches of government is now part of its anatomy, and successful industry players, past and present, have only thrived under a rent-seeking economic and political environment.

Certainly on the part of the Lopezes, it is a life-and-death struggle of preserving, fortifying and expanding their empire. On the other hand, Arroyo cronies such as Winston Garcia of GSIS, the Aboitizes, Ricky Razon of Transco, et al, are out to gain strategic positions in the power industry.

Unfortunately, in this grand conflict where the powers-that-be are to a great extent involved in interweaving and interlocking interests, each of the three branches of government may not necessarily work to represent public interest. In the end, with the triumph of private profit over public service, it is the people who ultimately suffer the consequences of this dirty power play.

At this juncture, we in FDC reiterate our urgent call for the complete overhauling of the EPIRA which failed to break elite control of the power industry and to lower power rates. The country cannot escape the obvious reality that the private sector’s primary objective in the power industry is to make profit at the soonest time possible and not to provide genuine public services at all times and at least cost. – 30 -

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