MANILA, JANUARY 14, 2014 (MANILA STANDARDS) By Manila Standard Today - WHY must Filipinos suffer under the yoke of the highest electricity rates in the world? The short answer is greed, and behind that avarice is a system in which public service has been sacrificed on the altar of private profit.

Today, 12 years after the Electric Power Industry Reform Act or Epira was passed, it is clear that our dalliance with privatization has failed most miserably.

The mistaken premise behind Epira was that free market competition would flourish in the power industry and give consumers not only a choice of service providers but also the advantage of lower electricity rates.

This has been a cruel joke.

The Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) is still the only power distributor that matters, holding 5.3 million consumers hostage to ever-rising electricity bills.

The so-called competition among power generators has not resulted in lower power costs, either, and today, the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) is no more than a mechanism to create the illusion of competition.

Worse, the law is being used to justify onerous conditions that fair-minded people should never have accepted. Why, for instance, is Meralco allowed to charge its customers for “system losses” that represent stolen electricity? Did Meralco’s customers steal the power? No, they did not. Did they use it? No. Were they, in fact, responsible for the system losses? Again, the answer is no —Meralco itself was to blame for its inability to stop system losses. Yet every month, we are billed for its incompetence.

This, apparently, is all right with the Aquino administration, which has made a habit of throwing its hands in the air, as if to say: “That’s the law” or “That’s in their contract.”

Sadly, this kind of abdication of duty to ensure that the public has access to affordable basic services has been the hallmark of this administration. The same regime of limited choice and high prices exists in the supply of water and gasoline.

In fact, this administration has gone out of its way to seek other services to privatize or outsource, in the misguided belief that this will somehow be more efficient, when in fact it will only mean more expenses for consumers or taxpayers.

Now we are told that the Philippine National Police wants to spend P21 million in taxpayers’ money to hire security guards to man the gates at its national headquarters, because they get paid less than police officers assigned to guard duty. This, top police officials say, will free up more than 100 policemen to be deployed on the streets.

By the same token, shall we next hire security guards to replace jail guards? Will mercenaries be acceptable replacements for the men and women of the Armed Forces? Why not privatize local governments, too, and have corporations bid to run City Hall?

Some services simply should not be privatized.

The notion that privatization will somehow improve our lot and bring down the cost of services is a fallacy, especially in the face of unregulated monopolies.

In principle, people pay taxes in the expectation that the government will use this money to provide basic public services at a fair and affordable cost. These days, however, we pay taxes so that government officials who pass on this responsibility to private contractors can draw their salaries. Then we must pay more, of course, for services that never should have been privatized in the first place.

Let us make no mistake. Regardless of this administration’s assurances and soothing words, it is consumers who will be left holding the bag—and footing the bill.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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