G.R. No. 141314. April 9, 2003
REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, REPRESENTED BY ENERGY REGULATORY BOARD, Petitioner, v. MANILA ELECTRIC COMPANY, respondent.
[G.R. No. 141369. April 9, 2003
LAWYERS AGAINST MONOPOLY AND POVERTY (LAMP) consisting of CEFERINO PADUA, Chairman, G. FULTON ACOSTA, GALILEO BRION, ANATALIA BUENAVENTURA, PEDRO CASTILLO, NAPOLEON CORONADO, ROMEO ECHAUZ, FERNANDO GAITE, ALFREDO DE GUZMAN, ROGELIO KARAGDAG, JR., MA. LUZ ARZAGA-MENDOZA, ANSBERTO PAREDES, AQUILINO PIMENTEL III, MARIO REYES, EMMANUEL SANTOS, RUDEGELIO TACORDA, members, and ROLANDO ARZAGA, Secretary-General, JUSTICE ABRAHAM SARMIENTO, SENATOR AQUILINO PIMENTEL, JR. and COMMISSIONER BARTOLOME FERNANDEZ, JR., Board of Consultants, and Lawyer GENARO LUALHATI, Petitioners, v. MANILA ELECTRIC COMPANY (MERALCO), respondent.
R E S O L U T I O N
The business and operations of a public utility are imbued with public interest. In a very real sense, a public utility is engaged in public service-- providing basic commodities and services indispensable to the interest of the general public. For this reason, a public utility submits to the regulation of government authorities and surrenders certain business prerogatives, including the amount of rates that may be charged by it. It is the imperative duty of the State to interpose its protective power whenever too much profits become the priority of public utilities.
For resolution is the Motion for Reconsideration filed by
respondent Manila Electric Company (MERALCO) on December 5, 2002 from the
decision of this Court dated November 15, 2002 reducing MERALCOs rate
adjustment in the amount of
First, we leapfrog through the facts. On December 23, 1993,
MERALCO filed with the Energy Regulatory Board (ERB) an application for revised
rates, with an average increase of
In its decision dated February 16, 1998, the ERB
adopted the recommendations of the COA and authorized MERALCO to adopt a
rate adjustment of
In its Motion for Reconsideration, respondent MERALCO contends
that: (1) the deduction of income tax from revenues allowed for rate
determination of public utilities is part of its constitutional right to
property; (2) it correctly used the average investment method or the simple
average in computing the value of its properties entitled to a return instead
of the net average investment method or the number of months use method;
and (3) the decision of the ERB ordering the refund of
The Republic of the Philippines through the ERB, now Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), represented by the Office of the Solicitor General, filed its Comment on March 7, 2003. Surprisingly, in its Comment, the ERC proffered a divergent view from the Office of the Solicitor General. The ERC submits that income taxes are not operating expenses but are reasonable costs that may be recoverable from the consuming public. While the ERC admits that there is still no categorical determination on whether income tax should indeed be deducted from revenues of a public utility, it agrees with MERALCO that to disallow public utilities from recovering its income tax payments will effectively lower the return on rate base enjoyed by a public utility to 8%. The ERC, however, agrees with this Courts ruling that the use of the net average investment method or the number of months use method is not unreasonable.3cräläwvirtualibräry
The Office of the Solicitor General, under its solemn duty to protect the interests of the people, defended the thesis that income tax payments by a public utility should not be recovered as costs from the consuming public. It contended that: (1) the foreign jurisprudence cited by MERALCO in support of its position is not applicable in this jurisdiction; (2) MERALCO was given a fair rate of return; (3) the COA and the ERB followed the National Accounting and Auditing Manual which expressly disallows the treatment of income tax as operating expense; (4) Executive Order No. 72 does not grant electric utilities the privilege of treating income tax as operating expense; (5) the COA and the ERB have been consistent in not allowing income tax as part of operating expenses; (6) ERB decisions allowing the application of a tax recovery clause are inapropos; (7) allowing MERALCO to treat income tax as an operating expense would set a dangerous precedent; (8) assuming that the disallowance of income tax as operating expense would discourage foreign investors and lenders, the government is not precluded from enacting laws and instituting measures to lure them back; and (9) the findings and conclusions of the ERB carry great weight and should be binding on the courts in the absence of grave abuse of discretion. The Solicitor General agrees with the ERC that the net average investment method is a reasonable method for property valuation. Finally, the Solicitor General argues that the ERB decision may be applied retroactively and the use of a test period to determine the rate base and allowable rates to be collected by a public utility is an accepted practice.4cräläwvirtualibräry
We shall discuss the main issues in seriatim.
MERALCO argues that deduction of all kinds of taxes, including income tax, from the gross revenues of a public utility is firmly entrenched in American jurisprudence. It contends that the Public Service Act (Commonwealth Act No. 146) was patterned after Act 2306 of the Philippine Commission, which, in turn, was borrowed from American state public utility laws such as the New Jersey Public Utility Act. Hence, it maintains that American jurisprudence on the inclusion of income taxes as a lawful charge to operating expenses should be controlling. It cites the rule on statutory construction that a statute adopted from a foreign country will be presumed to be adopted with the construction placed upon it by the courts of that country before its adoption.5cräläwvirtualibräry
We are not persuaded. American decisions and authorities are not per se controlling in this jurisdiction. At best, they are persuasive for no court holds a patent on correct decisions. Our laws must be construed in accordance with the intention of our own lawmakers and such intent may be deduced from the language of each law and the context of other local legislation related thereto. More importantly, they must be construed to serve our own public interest which is the be-all and the end-all of all our laws. And it need not be stressed that our public interest is distinct and different from others.
Rate regulation calls for a careful consideration of the totality of facts and circumstances material to each application for an upward rate revision. Rate regulators should strain to strike a balance between the clashing interests of the public utility and the consuming public and the balance must assure a reasonable rate of return to public utilities without being unreasonable to the consuming public. What is reasonable or unreasonable depends on a calculus of changing circumstances that ebb and flow with time. Yesterday cannot govern today, no more than today can determine tomorrow.
Prescinding from these premises, we reject MERALCOs insistence that the non-inclusion of income tax payments as a legitimate operating expense will deny public utilities a fair return of their investment. This stubborn stance is belied by the report submitted by the COA on the audit conducted on MERALCOs books of accounts and the findings of the ERB.6cräläwvirtualibräry
Upon the instructions of the ERB, the COA conducted an audit of
the operations of MERALCO covering the period from February 1, 1994 to January
31, 1995, or the period immediately
after the implementation of the provisional rate increase.
Hence, amounts culled by the COA from its examination of the books of MERALCO
already included the provisional rate increase of
From the figures submitted by the COA, the ERB was able to
determine that MERALCO derived excess
revenue during the test year in the amount of
At appraised value
Total Invested Capital Entitled
12% return thereon
Add: Total Operating expenses
for Rate Determination
Percent of Excess Revenue to 8.15%
Authorized Rate of Return 12.00%
Actual Rate of Return 20.15%
Total kwh sold 14,640,094,000
Ratio of Excess Revenue to
In fact, even if MERALCOs income tax liability would be
included as an operating expense, MERALCO would still enjoy excess revenue of
At appraised value
Total Invested Capital Entitled
12% return thereon
Add: Total Operating expenses
for Rate Determination
Percent of Excess Revenue
to Invested Capital 1.04%
Authorized Rate of Return 12.00%
Actual Rate of Return 13.04%
It is crystal clear, therefore, that even if income tax is to be included as an operating expense and hence, recoverable from the consuming public, MERALCO would still enjoy a rate of return that is above the authorized rate of 12%. Public utilities cannot be allowed to overcharge at the expense of the public and worse, they cannot complain that they are not overcharging enough.
Be that as it may, MERALCO contends that considering income tax payments of public utilities constitute one-third of their net income, public utilities will effectively get, not the 12% rate of return on rate base allowed them, but only about 8%.14 Again, we are not persuaded.
The foregoing argument assumes that the 12% return allowed to public utilities is equivalent to its taxable income which will be subject to income tax. The 12% rate of return is computed only for the purpose of fixing the allowable rates to be charged by a public utility and is in no way determinative of the income subject to income tax of the public utility. The computation of a corporations income tax liability is an altogether different matter, with the corporations taxable income derived by taking into account the corporations gross revenues less allowable deductions.15cräläwvirtualibräry
At any rate, even on the assumption that in the test year involved
(February 1, 1994 to January 31, 1995), MERALCOs computed revenue of
MERALCO also contends that even the successor of the ERB or the ERC created under the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (EPIRA)17 adheres to the principle that income tax is part of operating expense.18 To bolster its argument, MERALCO cites Article 36 of the EPIRA which charges the ERC with the responsibility of unbundling the rates of the National Power Corporation (NPC) and each distribution utility coming within the coverage of the law.19 MERALCO alleges that pursuant to said provision, the ERC issued a set of Uniform Rate Filing Requirements (UFR) containing guidelines to be followed with respect to rate unbundling applications to be filed. MERALCO asserts that under the UFR, the enumeration of the expenses which are to be recovered through the rates, and which are to be separated or allocated for the purpose of unbundling of these rates include income tax expenses.
Under Section 36 of the EPIRA, the NPC and every distribution facility covered by the law is mandated to unbundle, segregate or itemize its rates according to the various sectors of the electric power industry identified in the law, namely: generation, transmission, distribution and supply.20 The law further directs the ERC to regulate and facilitate the unbundling of rates prescribed by Section 36. Thus, on October 30, 2001, the ERC issued guidelines prescribing the uniform rate filing requirements to be followed by distribution facilities for the purposes of unbundling rates.21cräläwvirtualibräry
A proper appreciation of the UFR shows that it simply specifies a uniform accounting system to be complied with by a distribution facility when filing an application for revised rates under the EPIRA. As the EPIRA requires the unbundling or segregation of rates according to the different sectors of the electric power industry, the UFR seeks to facilitate this process by properly identifying the accounts or information required for proper evaluation by the ERB. Thus, the introductory statements of the UFR provide:
These uniform rate filing requirements are intended to promote consistency and completeness in the rate filings required by Republic Act No. 9136 (RA 9136), Section 36. To that end, the filing requirements only specify minimum form and content. A rate application in all its aspects continues to be subject to subsequent Commission review and deliberation.
At the onset, it is clear that the UFR does not seek to determine which accounting method will be used by the ERC for determination of rate base or the items of expenses that may be recovered by a public utility from its customers. The UFR only seeks to prescribe a uniform system or format to standardize or facilitate the process of unbundling of rates mandated by the EPIRA. At best, the UFR prescribes the set of raw data or figures to be disclosed by a distribution facility that the ERC will need to determine the authorized rates that a distribution facility may charge. The UFR does not, in any way, determine the manner by which the set of data or figures indicated in the rate application will be evaluated by the ERC for rate determination purposes.
MERALCO also challenges the use of the net average investment method or the number of months use method on the ground that MERALCO and the Public Service Commission (PSC) have been consistently applying the average investment method or simple average, which it alleged was also affirmed by this Court in the case of MERALCO v. PSC23 and Republic v. Medina.24cräläwvirtualibräry
It is true that in MERALCO v. PSC,25 the issue of the proper valuation method to be used in determining the value of MERALCOs utility plants for rate fixing purposes was brought to fore. In the said case, MERALCO applied the average investment method or simple average by obtaining the average value of the utility plants, using its values at the beginning and at the end of the test year. In contrast, the General Auditing Office used the appraisal method which fixes the value of the utility plants by ascertaining the cost of production per kilowatt and multiplying the same by the total capacity of said plants, less the corresponding depreciation.26 In upholding the average investment method used by MERALCO, this Court adopted the findings of the PSC for being by and large, supported by the records of the case.27 This Court did not make an independent assessment of the validity or applicability of the average investment method but simply did not disturb the findings of the PSC for being supported by substantial evidence. To conclude that the said decision affirmed the use of the average investment method thereby implying that the said method is the only method to be applied in all instances, is a strained reading of the decision.
In fact, in the case of Republic v. Medina,28 also cited by MERALCO to have affirmed the use of the average investment method, this Court ruled:
The decided weight of authority, however, is to the effect that property valuation is not to be solved by formula but depends upon the particular circumstances and relevant facts affecting each utility as to what constitutes a just rate base and what would be a fair return, just to both the utility and the public.29cräläwvirtualibräry
Further, Mr. Justice Castro in his concurring opinion in the same case elucidated:
A regulatory commissions field of inquiry, however, is not confined to the computation of the cost of service or capital nor to a mere prognostication of the future behavior of the money and capital markets. It must also balance investor and consumer expectations in such a way that broad requirements of public interest may be meaningfully realized. It would hence appear in keeping with its public duty if a regulatory body is allowed wide discretion in the choice of methods rationally related to the achievement of this end.
Thus, the rule then as it is now, is that rate regulating authorities are not hidebound to use any single formula or combination of formulas for property valuation purposes because the rate-making process involves the balancing of investor and consumer interests which takes into account various factors that may be unique or peculiar to a particular rate revision application.
We again stress the long established doctrine that findings of administrative or regulatory agencies on matters which are within their technical area of expertise are generally accorded not only respect but at times even finality if such findings and conclusions are supported by substantial evidence.31 Rate fixing calls for a technical examination and a specialized review of specific details which the courts are ill-equipped to enter, hence, such matters are primarily entrusted to the administrative or regulating authority.32cräläwvirtualibräry
Thus, this Court finds no reversible error on the part of the COA and the ERB in adopting the net average investment method or the number of months use method for property valuation purposes in the cases at bar.
MERALCO also rants against the retroactive application of the
rate adjustment ordered by the ERB and affirmed by this Court. In its decision,
the ERB, after authorizing MERALCO to adopt a rate adjustment in the amount of
MERALCO contends that the refund cannot be given retroactive
effect as the figures determined by the ERB only apply to the test year or the
period subject of the COA Audit, i.e.,
February 1, 1994 to January 31, 1995. It reasoned that the amounts used to
determine the proper rates to be charged by MERALCO would vary from year to
year and thus the computation of the excess average charge of
The purpose of the audit procedures conducted in a rate
application proceeding is to determine whether the rate applied for will
generate a reasonable return for the public utility, which, in accordance with
settled laws and jurisprudence, is 12% on rate base or the present value of the
assets used in the operations of a public utility. For audit purposes, however,
there is a need to obtain a sample set of data-- usually derived from figures
within a designated period of time-- to determine the amount of returns
obtained by a public utility during such period. In the cases at bar, the COA
conducted an audit for the test year beginning February 1, 1994 and ending
January 31, 1995 or a 12-month period immediately after the order of the ERB
granting a provisional increase in the amount of
The essence of the use of a test year for auditing purposes is to obtain a sample or representative set of figures to enable the examining authority to arrive at a conclusion or finding based on the gathered data. The use of a test year does not mean that the information and conclusions so derived would only be correct for that year and would be incorrect on the succeeding years. The use of a test year assumes that within a reasonable period after such test year, figures used to determine the amount of return would only vary slightly from the figures culled during the test year such that the impact on the utilitys rate of return would not be very significant. Thus, in the event that there is a substantial change in circumstances significantly affecting the variable amounts that would determine the reasonableness of a return, an event which would normally occur after a certain period of time has elapsed, the public utility may subsequently apply for a rate revision.
We agree with the Solicitor General that following MERALCOs reasoning that the figures culled from a test year would only be relevant during such year, there would be a need for public utilities to apply for a rate adjustment every year and perform an audit examination on a public utilitys books of accounts every year as the amount of a utilitys revenue may fall above or below the authorized rates at any given year. Needless to say, the trajectory of MERALCOs arguments will lead to an absurdity.
From the time the order granting a provisional increase was
issued by the ERB, nowhere in the records does it appear that the subsequent
While we agree that the amounts used to determine the utilitys rate of return would vary from year to year, we are unable to subscribe to the view that the refund applicable to the periods after January 31, 1995 should be computed on the basis of the excess collection in proportion to the excess over the 12% return. MERALCOs contention that the refund for periods after January 31, 1995 should be computed on the basis of revenue of each year in excess of the 12% authorized rate of return calls for a year-by-year computation of MERALCOs revenues and assets which would be contrary to the essence of an audit examination of a public utility based on a test year. To grant MERALCOs prayer would, in effect, allow MERALCO the benefit of a year-by-year adjustment of rates not normally enjoyed by any other public utility required to adopt a subsequent rate modification. Indeed, had the ERB ordered an increase in the provisional rates it previously granted, said increase in rates would apply retroactively and would not have varied from year to year, depending on the variable amounts used to determine the authorized rates that may be charged by MERALCO. We find no significant circumstance prevailing in the cases at bar that would justify the application of a yearly adjustment as requested by MERALCO.
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the petitioners Motion for Reconsideration is DENIED WITH FINALITY.
Sandoval-Gutierrez, Corona, and Carpio-Morales, JJ., concur.
Panganiban, J., please see separate opinion.
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