THREE heads of government agencies were ordered by the Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday to shed light on the technical issues attending the record power rate hike in Metro Manila and nearby provinces in an oral argument on January 21.

In a six-page advisory, the SC said Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla, Energy Regulatory Chairperson (ERC) Zenaida Ducut and Philippine Electricity Market Corporation (PEMC) President Melinda Ocampo "are expected to be able to competently and completely answer questions related to, among others, their processes and procedures."

The Court stopped the implementation of the P4.15 per kilowatt hour (kwh) rate increase in light of the three petitions filed by militant lawmakers and groups and homeowners, alleging that the hike did not undergo public consultation.

The petitioners also accused Meralco and the power producers of collusion to jack up the generation charge, which came after the distribution utility opted to buy more expensive power from the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) due to simultaneous shutdown of power plants including the Malampaya gas facility off Palawan.

For the oral argument, the parties will tackle whether or not the ERC violated the consumer's right to due process and a provision in the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) requiring it to protect the public from market abuse.

They will also try to convince the justices whether or not the automatic rate adjustments or increases to recover generation cost violates due process, the December 9 resolution of the ERC allowing the increase is valid and Sections 6 and 29 of Epira are unconstitutional in declaring that power generation supply are not public utilities and their charges are beyond government regulation.

The Court directed the petitioners and respondents as well to debate if the 60-day stay order on the implementation of the staggered rate hike should be lifted.

Meanwhile, former Iloilo Representative Augusto Syjuco Jr. filed the fourth petition against the rate increase.

He said the TRO should be made permanent and order Meralco to refund whatever amount they may have collected from its nearly five million customers and investigate the DOE, ERC, Meralco, PEMC and some power producers for possible market abuse or economic sabotage and file cases as a result of the probe.

“There was an apparent collusion and connivance among respondents to raise power rate by artificially reducing the supply of energy,” Syjuco said. (Sunnex)