CA junks injunction vs Casureco II over power rate hike

NAGA CITY—The 5th Division of the Court of Appeals has reversed and set aside the decision of Branch 33 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Pili, Camarines Sur. The said decision permanently enjoined Camarines  Sur II Electric Cooperative (Casureco II) from demanding and collecting payments from its member-consumers or end users.
RTC Judge Marvel Clavecilla summons CASURECO II officers to explain why they should not be cited for indirect contempt of court for not heeding his advice in not imposing higher power rates. (BICOL STANDARD FILE PHOTO)
“Accordingly, the Petition for Injunction filed by Genoviva Dimaiwat, Josephine Leonidas and Evangeline Laurente is ordered DISMISSED and the Permanent Injunction issued by the trial court is hereby DISSOLVED,” according to the dispositive portion of the decision, promulgated June 14, 2014.

It will be recalled that last January, Presiding Judge Marvel Clavecilla of RTC Branch 33 in Pili, reminded the cooperative’s Board of Directors and the General Manager about the permanent injunction which he issued against Casureco II.

In the said RTC decision, coop officials were “permanently enjoined from demanding and collecting payments from the member-consumers  or end-users of Casureco II for the electric consumption last April 2010 and demandable last May 2010 UNLESS the power billing is based on the March 2010 power rate of P4.8939 per kilowatt hour, less the penalty charge imposable for the duration of the TRO as subsequent to March 25, 2010, the expiry date of the extension by APRI of its power supply agreement with CASURECO II, the latter directly purchased its 100% power rates from WESM (Wholesale Electricity Spot Market) at excessively higher rates and without proper notice and hearing.”

The RTC decision was question by the coop board, which raised the following issues.

“First, the Regional Trial Court committed an irreversible error in holding that it has jurisdiction over the subject matter of the petition.

Second, assuming that the Regional Trial Court has jurisdiction over the subject matter of the petition, it committed an error in holding that the petition can be classified as a class suit even if all types of member-consumers were not represented in the petition.”

The Court of Appeals held that the appeal of the electric cooperative, represented by then General Manager Jane Barrameda and then Board President Atty. Nixon Tabora, is meritorious.

“The trial court had erroneously arrogated upon itself the jurisdiction to pass upon the issue of whether or not Casureco II is authorized to collect unannounced increase in the Generation Systems Charge to its member-consumers given the fact that authority to resolve this controversy, the jurisdiction of which is initially lodged with the administrative body of special competence, is the ERC,” said the CA.

Meanwhile, as a result of the RTC decision, the electric cooperative allegedly suffered a tremendous amount of losses in its operation.

While the RTC ordered the electric cooperative to collect P8.42 per kilowatt hour, the coop computed the proper rate at P15.39 per kilowatt hour.

The members of the Board as well as the management, despite the injunctive writ, pushed through with the P15.39 per kilowatt hour rate. This caught the ire of the court, since it violates the injunctive writ. At that point, the presiding judge threatened to hold theBoard of Directors as well as coop officials liable for indirect contempt. This, the court articulated, would happen if the said officials would continue imposing the much higher electricity rate.

Atty. Vicky Briones, the NEA Project Supervisor assigned to Casureco II, confirmed to BICOL STANDARD in an interview that as of March 2014, the coop has suffered losses amounting to at least P500 million, because of its inability to collect the proper rate.

Said losses will still substantially increase if the losses for the months of April, May and June are factored in.

Atty. Briones added that she will meet with the members of the management committee and the Board to discuss the issue.

Meanwhile, she explained that while she is aware of the fact that the CA decision is not yet final, she would already convince the petitioners not to prolong the legal process, as it is hurting the financial status of the coop.

The petitioners could not yet be reached for their comments at press time.—BICOLSTANDARD.COM