Members of the Freedom from Debt Coalition held a picket today in front of the office of the Energy Regulatory Commission to denounce the decision of the Commission granting Meralco a provisional authority to increase its rates by 12 centavos per kilowatthour starting January 2004.

“This recent move by the Commission enrages us consumers who have long been suffering from high electricity rates. The ERC has once again prioritized the interest of Meralco over the interest of the consumers!” exclaimed FDC Vice President Wilson Fortaleza.

“It is also ironic that this news came out at the start of the government’s celebration of the National Energy Week this week! The consumers have no reason to celebrate the Energy Week. In stead we have all the reasons to condemn this government for acting in favor of the interest of the power companies, particularly of Meralco,” Fortaleza added.

“The ERC has again made itself an accomplice of Meralco in bailing out the power utility through the imposition of new rates increase at the expense of the consumers,” Fortaleza further added.

FDC lamented that the ERC often grants provisional relief in favor of utilities to the detriment of consumers. “The provisional relief is often a fait accompli because the final decision is almost always the same as the provisional authority,” said the FDC Vice President.

“What if the final decision was contrary to the earlier decision, will Meralco rollback its rates and refund the consumers for the high charges it imposed while the provisional authority was in effect?,” asked Fortaleza. “We have had enough of Meralco’s refund mess,” he added.

FDC demanded that ERC recall its order allowing Meralco to impose provisional increase. “The ERC must not make a mockery of the processes especially pertaining to rates adjustment. Most of all, it must not be subservient to the propensity of utilities for asking for provisional rates increase at the expense of the consuming public,” said Fortaleza.

Further, the coalition raised its opposition to Meralco’s petition for rates increase. “The cash flow issues cited by Meralco in its petition should be thoroughly examined and checked whether or not they are indeed necessary for Meralco’s efficient service. Meralco has yet to provide FDC and other oppositors to its petition the supporting documents justifying its rates increase,” Fortaleza added.

FDC demands a thorough public scrutiny over Meralco’s claims before any relief should be given.

Meralco claims it needs the rates increase to pay its maturing obligations and to finance its expansion projects. It also claims that the refund has exacerbated its cash flow problems.

“The fact that Meralco is finding difficulty financing its operations despite its high electricity charges manifests its inability to efficiently run the distribution utility. Now it is resorting to further burdening consumers to answer for the debts and expansion projects that Meralco may have unnecessarily incurred,” Fortaleza noted.

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