Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Maybe Juday Knows: The Meralco Scuffle

Just a short take on the present scuffle for ownership of Metro Manila electric cooperative, Meralco.

Backgrounder. Meralco is currently serving electricity needs of the Greater Manila Area. It is partly-owned by the Lopez clan -- a very rich and powerful clan that has primary business interests in media (ABS-CBN Network, ANC, Skycable, and TFC). The Lopezes also have formidable political clout, considering that several of their erstwhile news anchors have turned into major Philippine political figures. (Incumbent Vice President Noli de Castro and Senator Loren Legarda come into mind.) Politics considered, it is widely-known that the Lopezes tend to lean toward the Opposition side of the political spectrum.

On the other side of the Meralco ownership is Government. Among those representing the administration on the Meralco Board of Major Stockholders is Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) President Winston Garcia. This solon's integrity has been shot down several times over for his ineptitude in doing typical GSIS functions. He attempted to "streamline" functions in GSIS through the creation of an e-card for its members. Instead of the intended "streamlining," it actually caused major delays in the release of pensions to several retirees, and up to the present this problem has yet to be resolved.

Now, Garcia has found an issue that would essentially sweep his GSIS boo-boos under the perennial carpet and turn him into a "people's superhero" of sorts: the alleged high rates Meralco is imposing on consumers.

Present issue. Meralco is now under fire for placing too many charges in the bills of their consumers. Among the charges under question is the systems loss charge which the said electric cooperative is making the consumers absorb. Garcia contends that systems loss should not be passed on to Meralco's consumers and instead, the company should be the one absorbing this.

Meralco is also being charged for buying electricity from the National Power Corporation (Napocor) -- the country's leading power producer -- at a time when their bid prices are high. Napocor officials have since issued a flat rate to be given to Meralco to minimize the problem of overpricing by the power cooperative, as well as to eliminate Meralco officials' alibi about Napocor being a factor in the jacking up of electricity bills.

At the helm of all this noise regarding Meralco's overcharging is -- as I said earlier -- Winston Garcia. Whispers in the background say that this issue on Meralco came up as a diversion to overshadow the Arroyo administration's alleged involvement in numerous anomalous transactions, the most recent of which is the NBN-ZTE scam.

Meanwhile, Garcia seems too overly-passionate about this issue. It's as if he has some personal tiff with the Lopezes. What gives, Garcia?

Developments. During the latest stockholders' meeting of Meralco, voting was made to select its new Board of Directors. At the end of the day, results came out with the Lopezes still owning most of the seats in the Board -- much to Garcia's chagrin. In true cartoon villain fashion, he was brandishing his finger in the air, saying, "This is not the end!!!"

Oh, and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has also entered the Meralco fray after issuing a seize-and-desist order, contending that proxy votes should not be honored in the selection of the Board of Directors. The Lopezes did not heed the said order, saying that the SEC should not be interfering in internal affairs of companies registered under them.

Now, everything's such a beautiful mess with no resolution in sight.

My take. Probably it would be best (and more readable) if I just stated my case in several bullets.
  • If Winston Garcia thinks that Meralco would be better off in the hands of government, thene's dead-wrong! The Lopezes may be running Meralco like a business (a losing business at that), but if government took control of this entity, it may just turn into another tool for graft and corruption.
  • Maybe Garcia should be concentrating more on the problems in his own company than on an electric cooperative of which he has no idea how to run. Or probably that's the same problem he has with GSIS: he doesn't know how to run it.
  • I remember from my days in media that when there's a block sale in the Philippine stock market and the source of this sale cannot be traced, people in media circles know that government through GSIS or SSS has been playing with members' money in the stock market without their knowledge. Paging Garcia...
  • I'm not much of a Kapamilya, and I know for a fact that the Lopezes are very frugal when it comes to money matters. Their acquisition of Meralco was a bad move from the start, but at least they managed to keep this losing cooperative alive. I doubt it if government people can even equate what they have already done.
  • Regarding systems loss charges, I have to agree with Garcia in the sense that consumers should not be paying for this. Meralco officials state that all other electric cooperatives in the country are letting their respective consumers absorb these charges -- so why can't they? Like duh: bandwagon mentality! It's not the consumers' fault that there are some enterprising people out there who decide to steal electricity instead of paying for it. Meralco now even has Judy Ann Santos taking the cudgels for them regarding systems loss charges. I'd really like to see that "law" which discusses consumers absorbing systems loss charges. Or maybe we can ask Juday.

To conclude. Meralco under the Lopezes may be a burden to its consumers, what with the exorbitant and sometimes unnecessary charges. However, I'd take Meralco under the Lopezes anytime than a Meralco under government control -- much less, a Meralco under Winston Garcia's control.

Postscript. Well, what do you know? Winston Garcia is now being considered as a senatorial bet for the administration come 2010! Now I understand the reason behind his less-than-discrete "paperings" (in Tagalog, pagpapapel) with regard to the Meralco issue.

I should have known...

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