Most students and parents readied themselves to go to schools for the start of classes today, but some 50 of them belonging to the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) went in stead to the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to oppose Meralco’s power rates hike petition, and demanded that power rates be reduced.

The protesters, some in school uniforms, decried Meralco’s 14.76-centavo rates increase petition, saying that the increase would mean an additional burden for them. They lamented that in these times of poverty and crisis, any increase especially in basic services/utilities such as electricity is unacceptable and unjust.

"Electricity is a people’s right that has to be promoted and protected and not to be abused by corporate sharks such as Meralco," said FDC member and student leader Jehhan Silva.

The FDC cited the Supreme Court’s decision on the cases vs. Meralco that “…the cases at bar (G.R. No. 141314) are of utmost significance for they concern the right of our people to electricity and to be reasonably charged for their consumption. In configuring the contours of this economic right to a basic necessity of life, the Court shall define the limits of the power of respondent MERALCO, a giant public utility and a monopoly, to charge our people for their electric consumption”

Silva added: “The budget of our families for our education has continuously been dwindling because of increases in prices of basic commodities and services/utilities such as electricity.”

According to FDC, power rate for residential customers consuming 201 to 300kwh a month is almost P9.00 per kilowatthour nowadays. The monthly electricity charge accounts for 22% of a household’s monthly budget of P8,000.

Rey Baltazar, an urban poor leader with three children studying, complained that their family could no longer make both ends meet with his measly monthly income of P7,000.

"If electricity rates will further increase, either we have to suffer from power disconnection or sacrifice more – meaning, less budget for the studies of the children like 'baon' and other school expenses or more belt-tightening measures," said Baltazar.

FDC Vice President Wilson Fortaleza said that while consumers are suffering from high prices of goods and services/utilities such as power, Meralco keeps asking for more increases.

"In fact, the 14.76-centavo rates increase petition by Meralco is unjust. It is way above the 12% return on rate base for public utilities that the Supreme Court has consistently adopted," said Fortaleza.

“Besides, the basis used by Meralco in increasing its return on rate base (RORB) to 15.93% is still questionable. The basis used by Meralco is ERC’s decision on 30 May 2003 on its petition on rates unbundling and appraisal of property, ERC Case Nos. 2001-646 and 2001-900. These were both annulled and set aside by the Court of Appeals in its decision in 2004. The Court even orderd ERC to direct the Commission on Audit to audit the books, records and accounts of Meralco which remains undone until now,” added Fortaleza.

Aside from the 14.76-centavo rate increase petition of Meralco, consumers are faced with other impending rates hike from the Meralco-NPC Settlement Agreement and Napocor’s GRAM applications.

FDC declared that it will continue to launch mass actions to stop unjust rates increases and demand the lowering of power rates.

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