Case Digest: ASTEC vs. ERC

G.R. No. 192117 : September 18, 2012

ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHERN TAGALOG ELECTRIC COOPERATIVES, INC. (ASTEC), BATANGAS I ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE, INC. (BATELEC I), QUEZON I ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE, INC. (QUEZELCO I), and QUEZON II ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE, INC. (QUEZELCO II), Petitioners, v. ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION, Respondent.


FACTS:

Petitioners Batangas I Electric Cooperative, Inc. (BATELEC I), Quezon I Electric Cooperative, Inc. (QUEZELCO I), Quezon II Electric Cooperative, Inc. (QUEZELCO II) and Pampanga Rural Electric Service Cooperative, Inc. (PRESCO) are rural electric cooperatives established under P.D. No. 269. BATELEC I, QUEZELCO I and QUEZELCO II are members of the Association of Southern Tagalog Electric Cooperatives, Inc. (ASTEC). PRESCO is a member of the Central Luzon Electric Cooperatives Association, Inc. (CLECA). BATELEC I, et al. are engaged in the distribution of electricity.

On 8 December 1994, R.A. No. 7832 or the Anti-Electricity and Electric Transmission Lines/Materials Pilferage Act of 1994 was enacted. The law imposed a cap on the recoverable rate of system loss that may be charged by rural electric cooperatives to their consumers. The IRR of R.A. No. 7832 required every rural electric cooperative to file with the Energy Regulatory Board (ERB), on or before 30 September 1995, an application for approval of an amended Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) Clause incorporating the cap on the recoverable rate of system loss to be included in its schedule of rates.

On 8 June 2001, R.A. No. 9136 or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (EPIRA) was also enacted. Section 38 of the EPIRA abolished the ERB, and created the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC). The ERC issued an Order which provides that rural electric cooperatives should only recover from their members and patrons the actual cost of power purchased from power suppliers. The ERC also ordered BATELEC, et al. to refund their respective over-recoveries to end-users. In addition, the ERC also adopted the new "grossed-up factor mechanism" in the computation of the over-recoveries of the electric cooperatives to be remitted to their consumers.

Thus, BATELEC I, et al. moved to reconsider the said orders but the ERC denied the same. On appeal, the CA upheld the validity of the ERC Orders.

Hence, this petition. BATELEC I, et al. aver that these ERC Orders are invalid for lack of publication, non-submission to the U.P. Law Center, and for their retroactive application.

ISSUE: Whether or not the assailed orders are invalid for non-publication, non-submission to the U.P. Law Center and for their retroactivity?

HELD: The petition is partly meritorious.

CIVIL LAW: publication of laws

Procedural due process demands that administrative rules and regulations be published in order to be effective. In Tada v. Tuvera, this Court articulated the fundamental requirement of publication, thus: "We hold therefore that all statutes, including those of local application and private laws, shall be published as a condition for their effectivity, which shall begin fifteen days after publication unless a different effectivity date is fixed by the legislature. Administrative rules and regulations must also be published if their purpose is to enforce or implement existing law pursuant also to a valid delegation."

There are, however, several exceptions to the requirement of publication. First, an interpretative regulation does not require publication in order to be effective. The applicability of an interpretative regulation "needs nothing further than its bare issuance for it gives no real consequence more than what the law itself has already prescribed." It "adds nothing to the law" and "does not affect the substantial rights of any person." Second, a regulation that is merely internal in nature does not require publication for its effectivity. It seeks to regulate only the personnel of the administrative agency and not the general public. Third, a letter of instruction issued by an administrative agency concerning rules or guidelines to be followed by subordinates in the performance of their duties does not require publication in order to be effective.

The policy guidelines of the ERC on the treatment of discounts extended by power suppliers are interpretative regulations. Publication is not necessary for the effectivity of the policy guidelines. As interpretative regulations, the policy guidelines of the ERC on the treatment of discounts extended by power suppliers are also not required to be filed with the U.P. Law Center in order to be effective.

In Republic v. Sandiganbayan, this Court recognized the basic rule "that no statute, decree, ordinance, rule or regulation (or even policy) shall be given retrospective effect unless explicitly stated so." A law is retrospective if it "takes away or impairs vested rights acquired under existing laws, or creates a new obligation and imposes a new duty, or attaches a new disability, in respect of transactions or consideration already past." The policy guidelines of the ERC on the treatment of discounts extended by power suppliers are not retrospective. The policy guidelines did not take away or impair any vested rights of the rural electric cooperatives. Furthermore, the policy guidelines of the ERC did not create a new obligation and impose a new duty, nor did it attach a new disability.

However, the grossed-up factor mechanism amends the IRR of R.A. No. 7832 as it serves as an additional numerical standard that must be observed and applied by rural electric cooperatives in the implementation of the PPA. In light of these, the grossed-up factor mechanism does not merely interpret R.A. No. 7832 or its IRR.It is also not merely internal in nature. The grossed-up factor mechanism amends the IRR by providing an additional numerical standard that must be observed and applied in the implementation of the PPA. The grossed-up factor mechanism is therefore an administrative rule that should be published and submitted to the U.P. Law Center in order to be effective.

As previously stated, it does not appear from the records that the grossed-up factor mechanism was published and submitted to the U.P. Law Center. Thus, it is ineffective and may not serve as a basis for the computation of over-recoveries. The portions of the over-recoveries arising from the application of the mechanism are therefore invalid. Furthermore, the application of the grossed-up factor mechanism to periods of PPA implementation prior to its publication and disclosure renders the said mechanism invalid for having been applied retroactively.

PARTLY GRANTED

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