"People need immediate relief against high prices now, not charter change!"

This was the cry of Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) and Laban ng Masa as they launched today a sticker campaign for immediate relief from high power rates at Barangay Escopa III in Quezon City.

Lowering the cost of electricity beginning with the lifting of VAT on power is one of the groups' top economic relief demands.

FDC and Laban ng Masa leaders together with local residents posted the stickers on the electric meters, signaling the beginning of the massive sticker campaign which coincided with the 5th anniversary of Gloria Arroyo's signing of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA).

According to FDC, the cost of power has almost doubled since 2001. The cost of power shoot to almost P9/kwh now compared to only P5/kwh before the passage of EPIRA.

"We are paying high for electricity under Gloria. Part of our budget for food and education of our children already goes to payment for electricity, not to mention cases of reported suicides in the past due to high power cost," said FDC Vice President and Laban ng Masa leader Wilson Fortaleza.

"Pinapatay tayo ni Gloria. It was only under Gloria's administration that we have heard of suicide cases because these people could no longer pay their electric bills. How many more lives will be sacrificed because of high cost of power?" said Escopa resident and FDC member Jomar Modesto.

FDC claimed that the implementation of EPIRA has resulted in successive power rates increases - the rates unbundling, removal of cross subsidies, generation rate adjustment mechanism and incremental currency exchange rate adjustment to name a few of the changes under EPIRA that have caused increases in power rates.

The coalition added that the P1.03/kwh-power rates increase, the highest so far that we have experienced, was a result of the Arroyo administration's desire to attract more investors and hasten the privatization process even when this is to the detriment of the consumers.

FDC further claimed that the imposition of value added tax (VAT) on power beginning last year resulted in further increases in the consumers' monthly electric bills. About P150, for those consuming 210 kwh a month, is added to their monthly electricity bills.

"We could have used this P150 VAT on power for food and other needs of the family, but Gloria chooses to make the people, especially the poor, sacrifice. Worse, we do not benefit from this VAT charged on us. A large amount of the VAT collection only goes to debt servicing, some of these debts are illegitimate and onerous," said Nora Protacio of Piglas Kababaihan.

"It's not enough that power rates increases be suspended, the cost of power must be lowered, beginning with the lifting of VAT on power," added Fortaleza also in reaction to the pronouncement of the Energy Regulatory Commission this week that approval of rates adjustments applications of power utilities through generation rate adjustment mechanism (GRAM) will be suspended. ###

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