Last May 27, Manila Electrical Co. (Meralco) stockholders convened on its annual shareholders meeting. The events of the supposedly closed-door affair of the company’s owners become the headline in almost all of Philippine major broadsheets. Why not? This private matter determines the future of the country’s largest power distributor and the price of electricity of many Filipinos.
The Meralco management, controlled by the Lopez clan, has recently been accused of overpricing its customers (second highest electricity rate in Asia), and of mismanaging the company. In order to secure the welfare of Filipinos, the government, led by Government Service Insurance System President Winston Garcia, should perform a heroic act. Garcia et al wanted, in this annual meeting, to secure the majority of the 11 Meralco directors. On the other hand, the Lopezes, who own the company for decades, won’t obviously give away their control over the company that easily. With the two sides fervent in gaining control of Meralco, Filipinos were to expect an exciting, charged-up boardroom war drama that would take place at the Meralco Theater.
They were not disappointed.
The 14-hour stockholder’s meeting, considered the longest in Philippine history by business veterans and one of the most attended, indeed became an energized tussle. In fact, because of the drive of both parties to win the war, both sides launched maneuvers to guarantee victory, tactics that were considered “foul play” by both of them.
On the part of Meralco, Garcia suspected that the Lopezes would use disqualified proxies one week before the meeting. Because of this, he petitioned for a cease-and-desist order from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to bar the company’s Corporate Secretary Anthony Rosete or any corporate secretary for the meeting from counting the proxy votes by the public that favors the Lopezes. SEC purportedly approved the petition and released the order.
But the validity of the same order served during the meeting was questioned by Meralco. According to Rosete, the order petitioned by GSIS “was null and void” because it did not have a docket number to show when it was filed and officially received, had no official seal, and was signed merely by an officer in charge and not by the commission sitting en banc. Therefore, according to Meralco, GSIS released an impotent order to foil the counting of proxy votes.
Meralco defied the SEC’s questionable order. So, true to Garcia’s prediction, the Lopezes were declared victorious mainly because of the inclusion of the contested proxy votes. Garcia and his GSIS allies questioned the legality of winners and promised to use all legal measures to invalidate the election result.
And so the war over Meralco domination continues, while its consumers (consisting mostly urban poor, who are, according to a survey, impoverished further by the skyrocketing prices of basic commodities) are still waiting for that auspicious moment in Philippine history when electricity costs goes down for good.
As of now, Meralco consumers can only hope that whichever side wins in this power struggle will have the same drive and energy in lowering the electricity bills as what they have shown during the meeting, wherein they wrestled to grab control and to secure their posts in one of the Philippines’ vital companies.