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DOJ charges Meralco with syndicated estafa

August 22, 2008 4:08pm

MANILA, Philippines – The Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) was charged on Friday with syndicated estafa after the Department of Justice (DOJ) found enough evidence to uphold the complaint filed by the National Association of Electricity Consumers for Reform (Nasecore) last May 29.

In its complaint, Nasecore accused Meralco of illegally declaring as income P889 million
in consumers’ money, which represents interest from meter and bill deposits consumers had been paying since 1995.

"The subscribers/customers were effectively and undeniably swindled," Nasecore was quoted in earlier reports as saying.

In a 31-page resolution, the DOJ panel of prosecutors said they found enough documentary evidence to file the charge, according to a report aired over radio dzBB by Teresa Tavares.

"Meralco has customarily charged deposits for meters, but this stopped in 2004 when the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) passed the Magna Carta for Residential Consumers," Nasecore said in its complaint.

"Residential consumers who subscribed prior to 1995 were declared to earn 6 percent interest and only consumers who subscribed after 1995 were declared to earn 10 percent interest. In 2006, Meralco converted the 4 percent interest accrued from the year 1995 to 2003 to the company's 'interests and other income.' The accrued interest differential translates to no less than P889M," it added.

DOJ prosecutors also used as basis for their decision the Meralco executives’ nonsubmission of a counter-affidavit in the case’s two preliminary hearings, according to the radio report.

In the preliminary investigation, Meralco lawyers claimed they had no time to prepare counter-affidavits as they had received their subpoenas late.

"They did not submit counter-affidavits. That's why when DOJ made its decision it found probable cause. It will be filed in a competent court," Nasecore president Pete Ilagan said in Filipino, adding that there were no details yet as to which court will handle the case.

In an interview over radio dzBB, Meralco spokesperson Elpi Cuna called the filing of the charge "harassment," adding that Meralco had already called for a press conference for Tuesday to explain the manner of the refund payment that will likely start in January.

According to him, Meralco executives were only following instructions from the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

"They (ERC officials) said we could collect meter deposits," Cuna said in Filipino. "And then they said, okay, stop. That was since 2004. So we stopped and now they say do the reverse starting in January."

He added that a temporary restraining order barring the DOJ from conducting an investigation prevented Meralco’s lawyers from filing their counter-affidavit.

He expressed dismay that the DOJ did not wait for their explanation, saying Meralco is prepared to file a counter-affidavit now that the TRO has lapsed. - Johanna Camille Sisante, GMANews.TV
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