MANILA, JUNE 4, 2008
(STAR) By Katherine Adraneda - Actress Judy Ann Santos is embroiled in a new controversy, this time not related to showbiz but to the highly charged dispute over power rates.

Cause-oriented groups slammed the popular celebrity – lead star of the recent independent film “Ploning” – for coming out with radio and television advertisements defending the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco).

The leftist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said her explanation of the systems loss charges imposed by Meralco is “not entirely truthful.”

Anti-crime activists from the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) called on the public to boycott all programs and projects of Santos for her defense of the additional fees that Meralco forces consumers to pay.

Meanwhile, the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) said in a statement that the use of Santos by the Lopez family’s ABS-CBN to defend Meralco is a sign of desperation for their failure to explain the billions of pesos that Meralco overcharges its customers every year.

“Meralco thinks that showbiz glitz and glamour can fool the people. How can they expect Judy Ann to explain in 30- or 60-seconder commercials what Meralco officials cannot explain for hours before Congress?” said GSIS chief legal counsel Estrella Elamparo.

Elamparo said Meralco should adhere to truth in advertising and Santos should explain not only the technical aspect of systems loss, but also the real issues concerning Meralco’s pass-on charges.

Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said the analogy made by Santos in her advertisements between electricity and melting ice is “not precise” as it “does not speak the whole truth” about the systems loss charge found in every Meralco bill.

In the advertisements, Santos, a contract star of Meralco’s sister company ABS-CBN Network, compared systems loss to melting ice and said these losses are “unavoidable expenses” similar to ice bought from the store but which melted during transit.

Reyes said the advertisement reasons that a consumer pays for the entire amount of the ice even if parts of it melt away as it is transported home. The ad likewise noted that Meralco is not the only firm that charges systems losses since all electricity distributors nationwide do the same, and that this kind of fee is legal.

“With due respect to Ms. Judy Ann Santos, the Meralco ad is not entirely truthful. The analogy between electricity and melting ice is not precise and does not speak the whole truth about systems losses,” said Reyes.

He said the main flaw in the Meralco commercial is that it did not reveal that systems loss also includes electricity lost to pilferage and electricity consumed by Meralco offices under the “company use” provision approved by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

“What consumers are saying is that we shouldn’t be paying for pilfered electricity nor should we be made to shoulder the company use of Meralco, or any other electricity distributor for that matter,” Reyes added.

Based on its computations, Meralco systems loss collections could reach P20 billion for 2008 at 80 centavos per kilowatt-hour (kWh), based on a total kWh sales of 25 billion kWh.

Bayan likewise noted that systems losses are also subjected to value added tax (VAT) slightly above 10 percent or around P2 billion a year.

The group, however, agreed with the observation of Meralco that the systems loss charge was approved under the law.

Nevertheless, Bayan insisted that electricity lost to pilferage and the so-called “company use” should not be charged to regular consumers.

Bayan said that technical losses should be studied first before they are passed on to consumers. The group said that there should first be some means to reduce recoverable technical losses in order to encourage efficiency in service.

The (VACC) meanwhile described the commercial of Santos as “the height of insensitivity to people’s sufferings of a supposed idol of the masses.”

VACC founding chairman Dante Jimenez said Santos should have rejected the offer to do the Meralco ad for the good of the public and consumers.

He said the VACC launched the campaign against Santos because of her ads “that run counter to our fight against the unlawful and unjust collection” of systems loss charges in electricity.

“I know that it’s just part of her job to do these commercials. But she should have been more careful in choosing which ones to do. She should have read the script first and made sure what she would say was correct and proper,” lamented Jimenez in an interview with The STAR.

He said that Santos, as an actress, has a social responsibility to serve as role model to the youth and should therefore not engage in projects that would be detrimental to their welfare.

“I am a fan (of Santos) myself. I cry whenever I see her cry. But the people now are crying because of this power crisis. So we have to stick with our fight for the people and encourage our families and friends to boycott her projects,” Jimenez explained.

Jimenez said he believes that consumers are wise enough not to accept the claims of Meralco in the ads. In fact, he said the actress might even be perceived to be an antagonist to the masses because of the commercial.

“This is not personal. I just want to advise her (Santos) that she should be extra careful next time and read the script first before signing a contract. You should make sure that you don’t hurt other people,” he stressed.

The National Power Corp. (Napocor) warned the public to be wary of paid advertisements that have been proliferating in major newspapers that blames the government for the high electricity rates.

In a statement, Napocor said these paid advertisements are trying to divert public attention by muddling the issues through disinformation.

The consumer advocacy group People Opposed to Warrantless Electricity Rates (POWER) branded as a mere “drop in the bucket” the proposed P2-billion subsidy being allotted by Malacañang for lifeline consumers of electricity.

POWER believed that the subsidy would not go a long way in easing power rates, as it pressed for the removal of the VAT on power and oil.

Ramon Ramirez of POWER said the P2-billion subsidy will be paid by consumers anyway, since the amount will be taken from the VAT on oil, which is expected to reach P18 billion this year. With Edu Punay, Donnabelle Gatdula

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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