The Manila Times
May 9, 2008
By Efren L. Danaom Senior Reporter

The Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) is home to “criminal” rings and should be blasted away, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago charged on Thursday.

“There is a conglomeration of syndicates at Meralco. It is time that the Department of Justice make an example of Meralco! I am certain that there are criminal elements in Meralco,” she said at a press conference at the Senate.

Santiago blamed these “syndicates” for the failure of the seven-year-old Electric Power Industry Reform Act to lower power rates.

“They are not only raising power rates. They are also buying power from their own independent power producers, an act inimical to public interest,” she said.

The senator added that Meralco is buying electric wires, posts, electric meters, and other materials from its own company.

The Joint Congressional Power Commission, or PowerCom, hea*ded by Santiago and Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo will investigate the high rates being charged by Meralco on Monday. Chairman Winston Garcia of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and Meralco officials have been invited to the hearing.

“The government has already lowered the sale price by Napocor [National Power Corp.] to Meralco and yet Meralco has not lowered its own selling price to retail consumers. Why is there a disharmony between the process of generating power and bringing it to the consumer?” Santiago asked.

She described the Monday inquiry as a “battle of titans” with Garcia and Meralco officials in attendance. Santiago stressed that PowerCom is not concerned with supposed attempts to wrest control of Meralco from the Lopezes.

“Meralco is like the Bureau of Customs [in that] whoever takes over, the syndicates will still make a killing because they are already well entrenched,” she said.

According to Santiago, the ideal Meralco manager is a street-smart executive and a graft-buster, not a desk-bound officer.

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon also on Thursday said Meralco should give the financial papers requested by GSIS but opposed any state control of the private power firm. Santiago earlier proposed that the utility be placed in government hands.

Biazon described the request of GSIS for the documents as reasonable and Meralco should give them “in the spirit of transparency.”

“GSIS is a major stockholder of Meralco and it is the right of stockholders to know how their company is being managed,” he said.

Biazon, however, warned that the utility would suffer losses should government try to wrest control of the company through the shares owned by GSIS and proxy votes.

Inept appointees

“Incompetent political appointees cannot run Meralco. The government does not have a good track record in running a corporation,” he said.

Biazon cited the National Power Corp. as an example of a poorly managed government corporation.

“The Napocor is existing only because it is getting subsidies from the national government,” he said.

Rep. Matias Defensor, the chairman of the House Committee on Justice, also on Thursday said it is time for the government to take over Meralco again. He cited lack of transparency in the utility, the country’s biggest power distributor.

Malacañang also on Thursday said it will continue to ask Meralco to open its books so that consumers may know how they are being charged.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said there is no need to remove value-added tax on power and lower royalties being imposed on power generation because the public only wants to know how Meralco bills them.

Defensor said the easiest way to get Meralco back from the Lopezes is to buy them out or for the government to buy more shares.

At present, 32 percent of Meralco is private, and 32 percent is government, particularly the investment made by GSIS.

Under the Consitution, Defensor said, the government can take over Meralco. He pointed to Section 17, Article XII: “In times of national emergency, when the public interest so requires, the State may, during the emergency and under reasonable terms prescribed by it, temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately owned public utility or business affected with public interest.”

Retirement package

The takeover is a ploy for ensuring a retirement package for Malacañang “cronies,” the political opposition charged also on Thursday.

“The government says all it wants to do is to lower electricity rates. It sounds good but the chilling question is where will the takeover spree end?” asked Adel Tamano, the spokesman of the United Opposition.

If the government “takes over Meralco, justifying it by lowering prices, why not take over oil companies to lower gas prices or food companies to lower prices of basic goods as well? Pretty soon everything is going to be run and controlled by this administration,” Tamano said in a statement

Remarks:

This is the time the bible had spoken, that this time is a time of uncertainties "mga kapighatian" made by my man. If this allegations are true, who can we trust? This is the result of man's greediness, di na inantala ang kapanan at ikakabuti ng iba. What a sick world.