- MERALCO is within its rights to immediately disconnect the electric service of the consumer after due notice, upon discovery of a tampered, broken, or fake seal on, the meter, provided the discovery was personally witnessed and attested to by an officer of the law or a duly authorized representative of the Energy Regulatory Board. It is only when the discovery is witnessed by such government representatives will it constitute prima facie evidence of illegal use of electricity by the person who benefits from the illegal use. (Section 4, Republic Act No. 7832 or the Anti-Electricity and Electric Transmission Lines/Materials Pilferage Act of 1994)
An “officer of the law” is one “who, by direct supervision of law or by election or by appointment by competent authority, is charged with the maintenance of public order and the protection and security of life and property, such as barangay captain, barangay chairman, barangay councilman, barangay leader, officer or member of Barangay Community Brigades, barangay policeman, PNP policeman, municipal councilor, municipal mayor and provincial fiscal.” (Section 1, Rule III, Rules and Regulations Implementing RA 7832)
The presence of the consumer during the MERALCO inspection cannot be a substitute for the presence of the government representatives.
- MERALCO is authorized to immediately disconnect the electric service of its consumers without the need of a court or administrative order when: (1) the consumer, or someone acting on his behalf, is caught in the very act of committing any of the acts enumerated in Section 4(a) of RA 7832; or (2) when any of the circumstances so enumerated in Section 4(a) of RA 7832, constituting prima facie evidence of illegal use of electricity, is discovered for the second time. (Section 6, RA 7832)
Section 4(a) of RA 7832 enumerates the following circumstances, which will constitute prima facie evidence of illegal use of electricity by the person benefited by such illegal use, if the discovery of such circumstances is personally witnessed and attested to by an officer of the law or a duly authorized representative from Energy Regulatory Board:
(i) The presence of a bored hole on the glass cover of the electric meter, or at the back or any other part of said meter;
(ii) The presence inside the electric meter of salt, sugar and other elements that could result in the inaccurate registration of the meter’s internal parts to prevent its accurate registration of consumption of electricity;
(iii) The existence of any wiring connection which affects the normal operation or registration of the electric meter;
(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;
(v) The presence in any part of the building or its premises which is subject to the control of the consumer or on the electric meter, of a current reversing transformer, jumper, shorting and/or shunting wire, and/or loop connection or any other similar device;
(vi) The mutilation, alteration, reconnection, disconnection, bypassing or tampering of instruments, transformers, and accessories;
(vii) The destruction of, or attempt to destroy, any integral accessory of the metering device box which encases an electric meter, or its metering accessories; and
(viii) The acceptance of money and/or other valuable consideration by any officer of employee of the electric utility concerned or the making of such an offer to any such officer or employee for not reporting the presence of any of the foregoing circumstances.
- Courts are prohibited from issuing injunctions or restraining orders against electric utilities over the exercise of their authority to disconnect service unless the disconnection is attended by bad faith or grave abuse of authority. (Section 9, RA 7832)
In view of MERALCO’s dominance over its market and the customers’ relatively weak bargaining position as against MERALCO, and in view too of the serious consequences and hardships a customer stands to suffer upon service disconnection, MERALCO’s failure to strictly observe the legal requirements for instant disconnection can be equated to the bad faith or abuse of right that the law speaks of.
- The presence of a defect in the meter, whether inherent, intentional or unintentional, including meter-tampering, which has existed for a considerable length of time, will create a presumption of constructive notice of such defect or tampering on the part of MERALCO. MERALCO’s failure to discover such defect or tampering, considering the length of time, will amount to inexcusable negligence that will bar it from collecting its differential billing against the consumers.
- Electricity is a basic necessity whose generation and distribution is imbued with public interest, and its provider is a public utility subject to strict regulation by the State in the exercise of police power. In view of the serious consequences resulting from immediate disconnection of electric service, the law provides strict requisites that MERALCO must follow before it can be granted authority to undertake instant disconnection of electric service due to its consumers.
These are legal precepts applied by the Supreme Court in deciding the case of Manila Electric Company (MERALCO) vs. Spouses Edito and Felicidad Chua and Josefina Paqueo (G.R. No. 160422; 5 July 2010).
For a digest of the case, click on Digested Cases under Tools.