MANILA, Philippines--In an effort to appease a public in Metro Manila crushed by unstable jobs and livelihoods, constantly increasing prices of basic commodities and ever rising power and water bills despite tightly managed consumption, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo called on MERALCO to decrease its rates. For this purpose she directed the Department of Trade and Industry to file an omnibus petition with the ERC.

While the action is welcome and in fact long overdue, we are wary of the timing and motives behind this order. Mrs. Arroyo is under pressure to resign from office in the face of serious allegations of corruption and evilness. And if we are to believe the scuttlebutt, her family has more than a foothold in the power sector. For these reasons we question the offensive on MERALCO as a sinister attempt to consolidate her family’s stake in the power sector in the guise of a desperate attempt to gain some public sympathy.

Lest we forget the Arroyo family now has a sizable influence in TRANSCO, courtesy of the recently questionable winning bid of Monte Oro Grid Resources for the transmission monopoly. Diosdado “Buboy” Macapagal, the President’s brother, is closely affiliated with Walter Brown, one of the owners of Monte Oro. Another stakeholder, Enrique Razon, is a close friend of First Gentleman Mike Arroyo and the treasurer of the administration’s Team Unity in the senatorial campaign last year.

Ownership and control of the national transmission grid is highly lucrative and very strategic. It can be used to favor one generator over another, to favor loyal supporters over critics. While transmission is regulated by the ERC, let us not forget it is Mrs. Arroyo who appoints the ERC Commissioners and that Congressman Mikey Arroyo heads the Energy Committee of the House of Representatives. This is rent-seeking of the highest order.

We remain critical of MERALCO’s high electricity rates and denounce the practice of the Lopezes of favoring affiliated IPPs even when cheaper electricity is available. We have long maintained that Metro Manila consumers rightfully own MERALCO. This however does not mean that we condone a power grab by a power hungry and infinitely greedy Arroyo family.

The Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) was one of the first laws signed by Mrs. Arroyo in 2001. Like the ZTE deal, she knew it was flawed but she signed it nevertheless. Unlike the ZTE deal, the EPIRA has been in effect for the past seven years and has resulted in 15 rate hikes instead of the promised cheaper electricity. The onerous IPP contracts were reviewed and found to be onerous, but not renegotiated. And now the flaws are being used to the advantage of Mrs. Arroyo and her cabal.

The Freedom from Debt Coalition vehemently condemns this.

We reiterate our call for affordable electricity and for a new energy law that does not contribute to global warming and that recognizes consumers as equal partners in the sector. We will pursue our vision of an environmentally sustainable, accountable and democratic power sector in a post-Arroyo scenario. -30-

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