College editors join ‘Blackout’ protests vs. power rate hikes

Photo by CJ Chanco

Photo by CJ Chanco

Youth groups joined protests outside the Supreme Court this morning, as the public awaits the latter’s decision over the Manila Electric Power Company’s (Meralco) power rate hikes – the subject of today’s oral arguments.

The SC debates are a response to public petitions against the hikes, which the high court earlier blocked through a 60-day Temporary Restraining Order.

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) supports the “Blackout Protests vs. Power Rate Hikes”, called for by Anakbayan and other progressive organizations. CEGP believes Meralco’s decision to raise charges is a gross injustice to young people and their families.   The hikes come at a time when access to other basic necessities – food, water, fuel, medical services, and education – is spiraling rapidly out of reach of millions of Filipinos.

Meralco is the largest power retail distributor in Luzon. In December, the company proposed to boost its charges by just as huge a margin. Raising rates by P4.15 per kWh, it is pushing for the single biggest price hike in the country’s recent history.

“Now, Meralco is threatening us with blackouts if power rates aren’t allowed to rise. This is nothing short of blackmail. The company earns more in a year than it gives out in actual services.  There is no reason for it to charge our families any more than it should”, said CEGP’s National Secretary General Marc Lino Abila.

Meralco’s profits have been growing by over 50 percent annually over the past six years, according to research think-tank Ibon Foundation, as well as the company’s own records.  From a net income of P2.6 billion in 2008, it expects its revenues to balloon to more than P17.5 billion.

Despite this, Meralco has cried bail, insisting power plant shutdowns have left it short on funds and warning of a series of rotating blackouts nationwide should its charges not be allowed to increase.

Protesters also question the government’s complicity with the company, with its virtually “automatic” approval of the hikes.   Central to this, they insist, is the government’s neoliberal development framework, in which public services are auctioned off to the private sector in the name of “efficiency” or even fairness. Price hikes are but one consequence of this, and services that used to be free must now come at a cost.

Through such laws as the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA), passed in 2001, the government has deregulated the energy industry, enabling private corporations like Meralco to profit from public services and to set prices at will.   They have thus secured near-total control over basic utilities including electricity, where they have acquired undue influence over the making and shaping of government policy.

One solution, says Abila, “is to push for the break-up of the power monopolies while restoring public control over basic services.” ###

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