ERC assures ‘no change’ in P6.9-B Meralco refund; timeframe still hangs

By Myrna M. Velasco – May 17, 2017, 10:00 PM

from Manila Bulletin

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC)  assured yesterday that there will be no change in the P6.9 billion refund that it directed Manila Electric Company (Meralco) to enforce, as well as on the three-month pass-on period.

But the regulatory body has still not given exact timeframe on the payback – that in essence is still placing consumers in a whirlpool when it comes to their anticipation of immediate financial relief in their electric bills.

The regulatory body previously indicated that the estimated P0.7541 per kilowatt hour (kwh) refund will be due in the consumers’ bills this June, but there is no exact pronouncement on that in the May 17 press statement of the Commission.

ERC Officer-in-Charge Alfredo J. Non, however, reiterated “there was no change in the amount to be refunded nor scheduled period thereof.”

He explained “we just have to follow some legal procedures to ensure that the ERC’s Order (or refund of) is robust and legally defensible, considering the 90-day preventive suspension issued by the Office of the President to Chairman Jose Vicente Salazar.”

The Commission admitted that it deliberated and decided on the case en banc on May 2, but with Salazar’s suspension on May 4, it stressed that the promulgation of their draft order on the refund stalled.

The regulatory body similarly explained why the Commission’s own press release was stealthily taken down from the ERC website just days after deliberations on the Meralco refund verdict.

ERC pointed out that “in the normal course of procedure, while an order is still being drafted, any press release regarding the disposition of the case is premature because the ERC Commissioners still need to affix their signatures thereon.”

In the past, however, the Commission adopted the practice of giving pronouncements to the media on its decision even prior to the promulgation of its actual ruling – examples have been approvals on the capital expenditures (capex) of Meralco and the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), anchoring such on how the Supreme Court has also been treating some decisions on cases of national interest.

Still, the ERC argued that “supervening event (on its Chairman’s suspension) constrained the Commission to reconfirm the order so that the same could be promulgated.”

Given that, it noted that it slated a special Commission meeting on May 11 to already reconfirm its earlier decision.

It cited two procedural challenges in the ruling though, but has not forthrightly stated if these will delay the actual implementation process of the refund – one is on the fact that Salazar could no longer sign in their decision; and second, that a public hearing is required within 30 days from the issuance of the order.