POSTSCRIPT / March 28, 2002 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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‘Guess’ billboards reek with sex and depravity

PEDDLING JEANS, OR SEX?: What is Guess® trying to do aside from selling jeans and such gear? Is it so desperate to catch attention and shore up sales that it has to plant indecent billboards all over town showing young couples in suggestive poses?

The most common layout of Guess billboards shows a young man forcing himself between the sprawled legs of a girl who, like him, is panting for sex. These bigger-than-life billboards are seen daily by impressionable youngsters.

Cannot jeans be sold without having to flash billboards hinting heavily of sexual adventure? Are we being told subliminally that wearing Guess jeans will open an exciting world of sexual abandon?

If Guess executives have grown that depraved and that desperate, they should be locked up and their suggestive billboards torn down to protect the public.

And who is the callous government official who issued the permits for these corruptive billboards? He should be flogged and fired before the end of Holy Week.

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MERALCO GIVES SIDE: Comes now Elpi O. Cuna, spokesman of the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), explaining the electric firm’s petition for a rate increase that objectors said would more than double the electric bill of consumers in its franchise area. In an email to us, he raised five points in reaction to our Postscript last Sunday:

  1. The proposed rate increase is not intended to raise funds to cover the outstanding loans of the Lopez group that controls Meralco. He said Meralco is “managed separately and maintains separate books of accounts from the other Lopez Group companies. Fund diversion, he said, is “not allowed under Meralco’s highly regulated operations.”
  2. It is not true that the bills of Meralco’s consumers will more than double. Elpi’s explanation: “The unbundling application filed with the Energy Regulatory Commission last Dec. 26, 2001, was mandated by RA 9136. Further, Meralco’s filing was made in accordance with ERC’s instruction to use 2000 costs and rate base. The reported increase of P1.12 per kwh compared the average unbundled tariff versus actual revenue per kwh figures of the company for November 2001. A more updated comparison versus actual January 2002 figures shows that the increase, on the average, will only be 10 percent or P0.65 per kwh, not the 116 percent reported in the papers. (Whew! Did you understand that? We didn’t. — fdp)
  3. Hiding “bulges,” “loose change” and “bloated assets” are not possible under the regulated nature of Meralco rates and operations. Meralco being a public utility whose rates and operations are regulated by the ERC, it first has to secure ERC approval for any changes in its rates, terms and conditions of service, major additions to its rate base, appraisal of its assets, loans it contracts, etc.
  4. There is a limit to the system losses that Meralco is allowed to recover in its rates. RA 7832 or the Anti-Pilferage Act of 1994 sets a 9.5-percent ceiling on the losses that Meralco may recover. Since Meralco’s system losses the past three years were higher than this cap, it had to absorb a cumulative P3 billion in purchased power cost that it cannot pass on to consumers. Of its 10.4-percent system loss in 2001, 7.6 percent may be considered technical and only 2.8 percent has been traced to pilferage. Some 10 percent of Meralco’s workforce is devoted to its anti-pilferage drive.
  5. Meralco has not been overcharging its customers. There is a case on alleged overcharging pending with the Supreme Court, but it is not an “adverse decision of the lower court.” The Court of Appeals in its Feb. 24, 1999, decision completely reversed and set aside the Energy Regulatory Board decision ordering Meralco to refund its customers. This is the court decision on appeal before the high court.

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‘TWAS THE APPEALS COURT: We stand corrected on our report that a lower court’s adverse decision is on appeal with the Supreme Court. It was not a lower court, but the Energy Regulatory Board that ordered Meralco in 1998 to refund some P10.8 billion to consumers who were overcharged.

The ERB issued the refund order after the Commission on Audit discovered that the Meralco was cheating on its computation of its profit cap, resulting in a profit of about 24 to 28 percent, or way above the 12-percent maximum allowed.

In the same decision, the ERB ordered the Meralco to roll back its rate by P0.167/kwh from the provisional increase of P0.184/kwh granted by the board in 1994.

Meralco ran to the Court of Appeals (when will they ever clean up this stinking hole in the judiciary?) and the appellate court reversed the ERB decision. The CA ruling is on appeal with the Supreme Court.

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GMA BETTER DO SOMETHING: There is a growing consensus that the confusion and the sneaky attempt to overcharge captive electricity-users was abetted by the Arroyo administration and that the burden of stopping unreasonable utility rate increases rests squarely on President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Such consensus is palpable in the reactions that clogged our mailbox. Reader Rodel Ocampo, for instance, notes that in the beginning, the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) had a laudable intention when it provided for rate unbundling.

Unbundling refers to the mandated breaking up of the power rate into its components and distributing the parts — for presentation purposes? — among the various stages of generation, transmission, distribution and supply. We suppose that the intention was to show where the charges go. Also, unbundling makes cost analysis easier.

President Ramos issued Executive Order 478 in 1978 directing the unbundling of the power rates, but it was an unbundling of the rates current at the time of unbundling. Ocampo said this was “the same consumerist spirit carried through in the earlier drafts of the power reform bill, before it became EPIRA.”

However, he noted, the unbundling section was rewritten during the watch of the Arroyo administration into a pro-utility mechanism for increasing power rates without calling it a rate increase.

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LEGALIZED ABUSE: Ocampo continued: “Legal niceties notwithstanding, the present intent of unbundling as altered by President Arroyo in EPIRA constitutes legalized abuse of the overburdened consumers. Should President Arroyo bear the blame for such a flawed reform law? Certainly, because she pushed passage of a law that is driving power rates beyond the sky.”

Readers following the discussion insist that Meralco’s rate-hike petition disguised as rate unbundling will result in a 116-percent increase, or at least a doubling, in power rates.

After Meralco tries hiding the effective rate increase by unbundling or spreading it around, bundle the components back and you’ll discover that you’ve just been hit by a rapacious system.

It’s really simple. Just look at the bottom line on your bill, and there you will see how much you are being charged to maintain the accustomed luxury of the elite running this country.

This is a sneaky thing to do. The government is not being forthright. President Arroyo, who promised that the EPIRA would not result in rate increases, must make good on that promise and stop the sneak attack on hapless electric consumers.

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INSATIABLE MONOPOLY: Ocampo had another point worth checking. He proposed an independent audit of Meralco’s investments in businesses not related to power distribution, particularly those in partnership with the Lopezes.

For every 51%-49% Meralco-Lopez partnership, he said, Meralco’s asset is dissipated or diluted. “When you cluster together all the partnerships and joint ventures, the Lopezes are way ahead of Meralco’s customers, who are in fact the principal assets of every distribution utility,” he said.

Is Meralco being milked at the expense of consumers who are forced to buy expensive electricity from it?

That’s another problem with this insatiable monopoly. If you don’t like its service or its rates, you cannot go anywhere else for your electricity needs. There’s no alternative. We cannot tell disgruntled households to go and buy their own generators. Or to shift to kerosene lamps or candles.

Btw, haven’t you noticed? Until yesterday, while the tempest blew, Malacanang had been ducking and keeping quiet.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 28, 2002)

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