Consumers protest privatization, high electricity rates

Electricity consumers went out of their way Thursday to express their discontent against skyrocketing electricity rates in the country and privatization of remaining power plants and supply contracts of the National Power Corporation (Napocor).

Consumers from 55 cities and municipalities from 15 provinces and 10 regions, led by the Freedom from Debt Coalition, staged a national day of action through various forms of protest and urged Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III and Congress, specifically the members of the Joint Congressional Power Commission, to create a roadmap to address the problems besetting the power industry and affecting ordinary consumers.

The forms of protest that the consumers conducted were “Occupy Meralco," pickets, shadow play, noise barrage, torch parade, power-off, among others.

Manjette Lopez, FDC vice president, said that the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) is a total failure for not meeting its intended objective of ensuring the quality, reliability, security and affordability of the supply of electric power.

“After 11 years of Epira, the Philippines now has the highest cost of electricity in Asia. We are a poor country with electricity rates higher than even those in the First World. That’s not acceptable. The President must use his power to repeal this law and give economic justice to poor and marginalized Filipinos,” Lopez said.

FDC has also been calling for a moratorium on the privatization of remaining government assets including the Angat hydro-electric power plant in Bulacan, the Unified Leyte geothermal power plant – supply contract (ULGPP-SC) in Eastern Visayas, and Agus-Pulangi hydro-complexes in Mindanao.

The group is also urging lawmakers to junk Senate Bill 3250 that was introduced by Sen. Serge Osmeña, seeking to extend life of the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management (PSALM) Corp.  for another 10 years. They instead call for a review and renegotiation of onerous contracts entered into by the Napocor with various foreign and local independent power producers (IPPs).

They also want to subject officials of energy agencies, including those in the Energy Regulatory Commission, to a lifestyle check.

Morning protests

Before they started their trade, ambulant vendors marched along the Elliptical Road in Quezon City, while tricycle drivers led by the Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Trasportasyon (PMT) also staged a noise barrage in BASECO Compound in Tondo, Manila.

“Hindi na naming kinakaya ang grabeng taas ng singil ng kuryente. Grabeng kasakiman na ito ng mga negosyante sa industriya ng kuryente. Nararapat lang na gumawa ng hakbang ng gobyerno para ibsan ang pahirap na ito sa mga mamamayan,” said Josie Orioke, a vendor-leader from Sanlakas.

In Marikina, dozens of bikers led by TV personality Tado Jimenez toured the city, culminating in a picket in front of Meralco branch in barangay Concepcion.

In Cebu, consumers held a caravan, informing residents about an impending rate increase should the government push through with its plan to privatize the ULGPP-SC. FDC–Cebu reminded other consumers about the experience of the people of Negros Occidental when Green Core Geothermal Inc. (GCGI) entered into a power sale agreement with Central Negros Electric Cooperative (CENECO) in December 2011. After the said agreement, instead of providing clean, reliable and affordable electricity, several Negrenses were subjected to a 100% increase in electricity rates.

In Davao City, members FDC-Southern Mindanao chapter staged a protest rally at the city’s Freedom Park, urging the national government not to implement the Interim Mindanao Electricity Market (IMEM). According to news reports, the government has admitted that it will cause an increase by P0.03-P0.72 depending on what energy source is sold to the interim market. At present, the rate is at P2.94 per kilowatt-hour in the island. Mindanaoans have also been calling on the national government not to pursue its plan to privatize the Agus-Pulangi power plants.

‘Occupy Meralco’

The protesters also staged “Occupy Meralco” in at least 12 of its branches in Metro Manila and nearby provinces of Bulacan, Rizal and Cavite. Residents and activists from various organizations were demanding to “stop Meralco’s corporate greed.”

More than 200 workers belonging to NAGKAISA – a coalition of different labor unions, staged a picket at the distribution company’s main office in Ortigas.

At the Meralco Kapasigan branch, cultural group KULAY staged a flash mob and danced to the tune of the K-Pop hit "Gangnam Style.”

In Manila, more than 100 members of FDC-Women’s Committee marched from Welcome Rotonda to a branch of Meralco along España Boulevard. They condemned “Meralco’s greed” which for them is one of the reasons why their families will be having a bleak Christmas.

“Krisismas! ‘Yan ang epekto ng mahal na singil sa kuryente. Kaming mga nanay, bilang kadalasang nagbabalanse ng kakarampot na badyet sa bahay, ang lubos na apektado ng pagtaas ng singil sa kuryente. Hindi na puwedeng pa-easy-easy na lamang ang ating gobyerno habang kami ay hirap na hirap na sa pasaning ito,” said Glo Santos of FDC Women’s Committee.

In Quezon City, members of Akbayan party-list trooped to occupy the Meralco Business Center at Kamuning-EDSA to protest what it calls “unwarranted and unabated high electricity rates” as it joins a “national day of action” against high power rates increases and Epira. The group highlighted the public’s growing discontentment against unabated increases in the price of electricity. Akbayan also called for the scrapping of the Bill Deposit Charge.

In Caloocan, members of Kongreso ng Pagkakaisa ng mga Maralita sa Lungsod (KPML) held a program in front of the Meralco Business Center here, where they registered their frustrations with the failures of Epira to bring low electricity rates and a secured supply.

KPML leader Anthony Barnedo lambasted the Lopezes and Manny Pangilinan for being “insensitive to the plight of the poor” by imposing a series to rate increases to increase their profit.  “The service of providing electricity should not be treated as a business because access to electricity is important to the daily lives of the poor,” Barnedo said.

Farmers in Bulacan belonging to Alyansa ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (AMA) also marched from Bocaue to Balagtas to join the picket in front of a Meralco branch along McArthur Hi-way in barangay Burol Uno. -30-

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