In a decision, the Supreme Court (SC) ruled that electric companies should follow all legal requirements before they disconnect and charge customers due to metering devices that were allegedly tampered with.
If the firms failed to inspect the electric meters, power firms cannot charge customers for electricity assumedly used but not yet charged, the SC said in a decision authored by SC Associate Justice Marvic Lenonen.
“It is well-settled that electricity distribution utilities, which rely on mechanical devices and equipment for the orderly undertaking of their business, are duty-bound to make reasonable and proper periodic inspections of their equipment. If they are remiss in carrying out this duty due to their own negligence, they risk forfeiting the amounts owed by the customers affected,” Lenonen said in a report to Rappler.
A case between Manila Electric Company (Meralco) and Nordec Philippines caused the SC’s decision after Meralco had overbilled Nordec an estimated P 5, 625 in 1987 even though its electricity supply was switched off.
Meralco failed to follow the 48-hour disconnection rule and to discover tampered and defective meters during the advised 4-month inspection period. The SC said that Meralco is due for explanation of the basis of its billings, the SC said.
“It is also worth noting that during a third inspection on November 23, 1987, further irregularities in Nordec’s metering devices were observed, showing electricity consumption even when Nordec’s entire power supply equipment was switched off. Clearly, Meralco had been remiss in its duty as required by law and jurisprudence of a public utility,” the SC told Rappler.
The decision said, “The serious consequences on a consumer, whose electric supply has been cut off, behoove a distribution utility to strictly comply with the legal requisites before disconnection may be done. This is all the more true considering Meralco’s dominant position in the market compared to its customers’ weak bargaining position.”
Meralco is ordered to pay Nordec for the overbilled charges of P 5, 625 and P30,000 in nominal damages and suit, as the SC ordered.