Monday, February 4, 2013

RA 7832; Meralco; law on disconnection of electrical service- sc.judiciary.gov.ph/jurisprudence/2013/january2013/182976.pdf

see  -  sc.judiciary.gov.ph/jurisprudence/2013/january2013/182976.pdf


"x x x.


The  pertinent law relative to the immediate disconnection of electricity is Section 4, RA 7832, which reads:


SEC. 4.  Prima Facie Evidence.–(a) The presence of any of the following circumstances shall constitute  prima facie  evidence of illegal use of electricity, as defined in this Act, by the person benefitted thereby, and shall be the basis for: (1) the immediate disconnection by the electric
utility to such person after due notice, x x x

(iv) The presence of a tampered, broken, or fake seal on the meter, or mutilated, altered, or tampered meter recording chart or graph, or computerized chart, graph, or log;

x x x x

(viii) x x x Provided, however, That the discovery of any of the foregoing circumstances, in order to constitute  prima facie evidence, must be personally witnessed and attested to by an officer of the law or a duly authorized representative of the Energy Regulatory Board (ERB).



Thus, in order for the discovery of a tampered, broken or fake seal on
the meter to constitute prima facie evidence of illegal use of electricity by
the person who benefits from such illegal use, the discovery thereof must
have been personally witnessed and attested to by an officer of the law or a
duly authorized representative of the ERB.


Citing  Quisumbing v.  Manila Electric Company, we reiterated the
significance of this requirement in Manila Electric Company (MERALCO) v. Chua, 27 thus:

The presence of government agents who may authorize immediate
disconnections go into the essence of due process. Indeed, we cannot
allow respondent to act virtually as prosecutor and judge in imposing the
penalty of disconnection due to alleged meter tampering. That would not
sit well in a democratic country. After all, Meralco is a monopoly that
derives its power from the government. Clothing it with unilateral
authority to disconnect would be equivalent to giving it a license to
tyrannize its hapless customers.

x x x.


Absent any showing that an officer of the law or a duly authorized
representative of the ERB personally witnessed and attested to the discovery of Permanent Light’s tampered electric meter, such discovery did not constitute  prima facie evidence of illegal use of electricity that justifies
immediate disconnection of electric service.


Besides, even if there is  prima facie evidence of illegal use of electricity, Section 4, RA 7832 requires due notice to the person benefited before disconnection of electricity can be effected.  Specifically, Section 6 of
RA 7832 calls for prior written notice or warning, thus:

SEC. 6. Disconnection of Electric Service. - The private electric utility or rural electric cooperative concerned shall have the right and authority to disconnect immediately the electric service after serving a written notice or warning to that effect, without the need of a court or administrative order, and deny restoration of the same, when the owner of the house or establishment concerned or someone acting in his behalf shall have been caught  in flagrante delicto doing any of the acts enumerated in Section 4(a) hereof, or when any of the circumstances so enumerated shall have been discovered for the second time: Provided, That in the second case, a written notice or warning shall have been issued upon the first discovery: x x x (Emphasis supplied).


Thus, even when the consumer, or someone acting in his behalf, is caught in flagrante delicto or in the act of doing any of the acts enumerated in Section 4 of RA 7832,  petitioner may not immediately disconnect
electricity without serving a written notice or warning to the owner of the
house or establishment concerned.


Petitioner Meralco submitted a memorandum with Control No. 6033-dated April 19, 1994 to prove that respondents were duly notified of the
disconnection.  Notwithstanding, petitioner maintains that the 48-hour notice of disconnection does not apply in this case since Section 97 of Revised Order No. 1 of the Public Service Commission pertains to nonpayment of bills while the cause for discontinuing service to Permanent Light was the discovery of the tampered meter.

We do not agree.



On February 9, 1987, the Bureau of Energy approved 31 the Revised
Terms and Conditions of Service and Revised Standard Rules and
Regulations of Meralco’s Electric Service Contract.  Pertinent to this case,
the provision on Discontinuance of Service under the Revised Terms and
Conditions of Service states:

DISCONTINUANCE OF SERVICE:

The Company reserves the right to discontinue service in case the
Customer is in arrears in the payment of bills or for failure to pay the
adjusted bills in those cases where the meter stopped or failed to register
the correct amount of energy consumed, or for failure to comply with any
of these terms and conditions, or in case of or to prevent fraud upon the
Company. Before disconnection is made in case of or to prevent fraud, the
Company may adjust the bill of said Customer accordingly and if the adjusted bill is not paid, the Company may disconnect the same. In case
of disconnection, the provisions of Revised Order No. 1 of the former
Public Service Commission (now the Board of Energy) shall be
observed. Any such suspension of service shall not terminate the contract
between the Company and the Customer.32(Emphasis supplied)  

On August 3, 1995, the ERB passed Resolution No. 95-21 or the Standard Rules and Regulations Governing the Operation of Electrical Power Services which superseded and revoked Revised Order No. 1, which
the Public Service Commission adopted on November 27, 1941.  The
relevant provision on disconnection of service is found in Section 48 of ERB
Resolution No. 95-21, which reads:

SEC. 48. Refusal or Discontinuance of Service. – An electric utility shall not refuse or discontinue service to an applicant, or customer, who is not in arrears to the electric utility, even though there are unpaid charges due from the premises occupied by the applicant, or customer, on account
of unpaid bill of a prior tenant, unless there is evidence of conspiracy
between them to defraud the electric utility.

Service may be discontinued for the nonpayment of bills as provided for in Section 43 hereof, provided that a forty eight (48)-hour written notice of such disconnection has been given the customer;Provided, however,  that disconnections of service shall not be made on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and official holidays; Provided, further, that if at the moment of  the  disconnection is to be made the customer tenders payment of the unpaid bill to the agent or employee of the electric utility who is to effect the disconnection, the said agent,  or employee shall be obliged to accept tendered payment and issue a temporary receipt for the amount and shall desist from disconnecting the service.

The electric utility may discontinue service in case the customer is in arrear(s) in the payment of bill(s). Any such suspension of service shall
not terminate the contract between the electric utility and the customer.
In the case of arrear(s) in the payment of bill(s), the electric utility
may discontinue the service notwithstanding the existence of the
customer’s deposit with the electric utility which will serve as guarantee
for the payment of future bill(s) after service is reconnected.  (Emphasis
supplied)


True, Section 48 of ERB Resolution No. 95-21 expressly provides for
the application of the 48-hour notice rule to Section 43 on Payment of Bills.

However, petitioner Meralco, through its Revised Terms and Conditions of
Service, adopted said notice requirement where disconnection of service is
warranted because (1) the consumer failed to pay the adjusted bill after the





meter stopped or failed to register the correct amount of energy consumed,
(2) or for failure to comply with any of the terms and conditions, (3) or in
case of or to prevent fraud upon the Company.


Considering the discovery of the tampered meter by its Fully Phased
Inspectors, petitioner Meralco could have disconnected electricity to
Permanent Light for no other reason but to prevent fraud upon the Company.

Therefore, under the Revised Terms and Conditions of Service vis-a-vis
Section  48 of ERB Resolution No. 95-21, petitioner is obliged to furnish
respondents with a 48-hour notice of disconnection.  Having failed in this
regard, we find basis for the award of moral and exemplary damages in
favor of respondents for the unceremonious disconnection of electricity to
Permanent Light.


Moral damages are awarded to compensate the claimant for physical
suffering, mental anguish, fright, serious anxiety, besmirched reputation,
wounded feelings, moral shock, social humiliation and similar injury.33
 
Jurisprudence has established the following requisites for the award of moral damages: (1) there is an injury whether physical, mental or psychological, which was clearly sustained by the claimant; (2) there is a culpable act or omission factually established; (3) the wrongful act or omission of the defendant is the proximate cause of the injury sustained by the claimant; and (4) the award of damages is predicated on any of the cases stated in Article 2219 of the Civil Code.34
 


Pertinent to the case at hand, Article 32 of the Civil Code provides for
the award of moral damages in cases where the rights of individuals,
including the right against deprivation of property without due process of
law, are violated.35

   In Quisumbing v. Manila Electric Company, this Court treated the immediate disconnection of electricity without notice as a form of
deprivation of property without due process of law, which entitles the subscriber aggrieved to moral damages.  We stressed:

More seriously, the action of the defendant in maliciously disconnecting the electric service constitutes a breach of public policy. For public utilities, broad as their powers are, have a clear duty to see to it that they do not violate nor transgress the rights of the consumers. Any act on their part that militates against the ordinary norms of justice and fair play is considered an infraction that gives rise to an action for damages. Such is
the case at bar. 36
       
Here, petitioner failed to establish factual basis for the immediate
disconnection of electricity to Permanent Light and to comply with the
notice requirement provided by law.  As the court a quo correctly observed,
there is no direct evidence that points to respondents as the ones who
tampered with Permanent Light’s electric meter.  Notably, the latter’s meter is located outside its premises where it is readily accessible to anyone.


In addition to moral damages, exemplary damages are imposed by
way of example or correction for the public good.  In this case, to serve as an example - that before disconnection of electric supply can be effected by a public utility, the requisites of law must be complied with - we sustain the
award of exemplary damages to respondents.

x x x."










2 comments:

  1. hi Atty. Manuel J. Laserna Jr.,

    im evans and i currently reside in marilao bulacan. we own the house was built 15 years ago but we only started living here last year since we have a house in manila and my sister and i are still studying.

    two weeks ago, i sought the help of meralco regarding our (ridiculously) large amount of monthly bill thinking that our analog meter is faster than normal. we have an average bill of P4000/mo which is not normal because only my sister and i live here and only at home during the night, with very minimal appliances(lights, fan, laptop and ref. no ac or electric stove or water heater), not compared to our house in manila which we have all of those and we are staying there most of our time.

    when they made an inspection, they told me that our meter was tampered. the rotation disk on the analog meter is rotating fine but one of the dials that they use to made the reading was busted, with no clear reason how they came into that conclusion other than it was a bit dirty daw.

    we do not have any idea who, when or how our meter was tampred. and definitely,, we're not the one who did it because clearly, we are paying way more that we are supposed to every month and im the one who actually reported it.

    acc to their policy, there will be a adjustment on our billing, meaning we have to pay MORE every mo.

    is there any way for us to dispute the further increase on our bill due to this allegedly tampered meter?

    a reply will be greatly appreciated.

    ReplyDelete
  2. btw, since we just started living here a year ago, im asking meralco to give me a copy of all bills, payments made, and actual readings from the time the house was built, so that i can see any patterns, increase or fluctuations, on our electric bill and electric consumption. they said that they dont have any capability to do that, which i find stupid since all the info that im asking present in every billing statement. i just dont have all since again, im only staying here a year. and its not like im asking for a confidential information such as a bank statement. im merely asking for my expenses and payments made on their service.

    ReplyDelete