Republic of the Philippines

Supreme Court

Manila

 

                                                                                                         

THIRD DIVISION

 

 

MANILA ELECTRIC COMPANY

G.R. No. 152769

                        Petitioner,

Present:

 

 

 

 YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.,

 

 Chairperson,

                – versus –                               

 AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ,

 

 CALLEJO, SR.,

 

 CHICO-NAZARIO, and

 

*NACHURA, JJ.

 

 

MA. VICTORIA JOSE,   

Promulgated:

                        Respondent.

 February 14, 2007

 

 

DECISION

 

 

AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, J.:

 

 

Sought to be annulled in this Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 is the March 26, 2002 Decision1 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CV No. 635902 which affirmed the June 1, 1999 Decision3 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Civil Case No. Q-95-25685.

 

Ma. Victoria D. Jose (Victoria) has been a Manila Electric Company (MERALCO) customer since 1987 with Account No. 14419-2260-23, Meter No. 31D551-57, and service address at No. 26, 5th Street, Gilmore Ave., New Manila, Quezon City.4

 

On July 14, 1995, Meralco Polyphase Inspector Santiago Inoferio (Inoferio) visited the residence of Victoria to conduct an inspection of Meter No. 31D551-57.5  After inspection, Inoferio issued a Service Inspection Report where he stated that “xxx further inspection shows burned out insulation of BCT* # 24921 xxx & its non-polarity terminal xxx.”6  Inoferio recommended that Victoria’s billing be adjusted and her record updated.

 

On October 3, 1995, Meralco issued to Victoria a differential adjustment billing for P232,385.207 and attached to it the following explanation:

 

A review of your billing record of your electric service at the above address shows that the billing rendered from Jan. 29, 1993 to Jul. 04, 1995 were affected by the metering defects (burned out insulation of BCT) found and corrected on July. 14, 1995.  This defect caused the meter not to register the correct KWH consumption, in particular, the KWH meter registered only 50% of the consumption.

 

We have adjusted the affected bills by correcting the registration from 50% to 100% in order to account for the unbilled consumption.

 

The corrected bill less payment made for the affected period gives a difference of P232,385.20 and is therefore collectible from your account.8  (Emphasis ours)

 

In a Letter dated October 27, 1995, Victoria requested Meralco to reconsider its finding on the ground that the defect was a fortuitous event and that it was due to the negligence of Meralco personnel that the defects were not earlier detected and repaired.9

 

Meralco did not accede to her request but offered an installment payment scheme.  It clarified that the differential billing was validly issued because “xxx the Polyphase Meter Test Report and Power Metering Field Order that we have furnished you on October 18, 1995 showed that the KWH meter registered only 50% of your consumption xxx.”10

 

Victoria refused to pay the billing adjustment.  On November 21, 1995, she received from Meralco an Overdue Account Notice which read:

 

This friendly notice is to remind you that payment for your account has not been received.  Please pay on or before the expiration date of this notice in order to avoid the inconvenience of disconnection of your service.11

 

The expiration date was set on November 24,  1995.12

 

This prompted Victoria to file with the RTC, Branch 223, Quezon City, a Complaint for Injunction with Damages and Writ of Preliminary Injunction and/or Temporary Restraining Order.13  After due hearing, the RTC issued a Temporary Restraining Order14 and a Writ of Preliminary Injunction15 on January 22, 1996.

 

After trial on the merits, on June 1, 1999, the RTC issued a Decision, the dispositive portion of which reads:

 

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, judgment is hereby rendered for the plaintiff and against the defendant, ordering the defendant to:

 

(1)      Permanently desist from collecting the amount of P232,385.20 for the so called “unbilled consumption” from the plaintiff and to permanently desist from cutting off electric service from plaintiff’s residence, permanently [sic] desist [sic].

 

(2)      Pay moral damages in the amount of P500,000.00; exemplary damages in the amount of P500,000.00; attorney’s fees in the amount of P100,000.00; and

 

(3)      Pay the costs of the suit.

 

SO ORDERED.16

 

Meralco filed an appeal to the CA which, in a Decision17 dated March 26, 2002, affirmed the RTC Decision.

 

Without filing a motion for reconsideration from the CA Decision, Meralco filed the present Petition, citing the following grounds:

 

(A)     The Court of Appeals committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or in excess of jurisdiction in holding that petitioner is liable to pay respondent moral damages, exemplary damages, and attorney’s fees.

 

(B)      The Court of Appeals committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or in excess of jurisdiction in ruling that the petitioner is not entitled to recover the unregistered consumption arising from the defect in respondent’s meter.18

 

We shall resolve the second issue ahead of the first.

 

An injunctive writ issues only upon showing that: a) the applicant possesses a clear and unmistakable right; b) there is a material and substantial invasion of such right; and c) there is urgent and permanent necessity for an injunctive writ to prevent serious damage.9

 

Meralco contends that the first element was not proven as Victoria lost her right to continued electric services when she refused to pay her differential billing of  P232,385.20.  Meralco claims that by such refusal to pay, Victoria violated her service contract under which she is liable for unregistered or unbilled electric consumption.  It insists that Victoria’s unbilled electric consumption amounted to P232,385.2020 because it was found that due to defects in Meter No. 31D551-57, only 50% of the latter’s actual electric consumption was registered and billed.

 

On the other hand, Victoria maintains that she is entitled to uninterrupted electric service because she has been paying her monthly bills on time.21  She disclaims liability for any differential billing because it was never established that her electric meter was defective or that it failed to register her actual consumption.22

 

Meralco’s position is untenable.

 

The service contract between Meralco and Victoria stipulates that “xxx [in] the event of the stoppage or the failure by any meter to register the full amount of energy consumed, the Customer shall be billed for such period on an estimated consumption based upon his use of energy in a similar period of like use or the registration of a check meter.”23  Under this provision, Victoria is liable for any differential billing that may be issued in case of failure of Meter No. 31D551-57 to register her actual electric consumption.  

 

We have declared such provision to be valid and binding.24  Its  rationale is to allow Meralco or any electric company a measure of self-preservation and protection in situations where the highly technical machinery, equipment and devices it utilizes in the operation of its business break down or become worn out that they fail to register the correct level of electric consumption and prevent the proper billing of their users.25

 

However, the right of Meralco to collect on differential billings is not without limitation.  Before it may exercise such right, Meralco must establish the factual basis for differential billing.  Specifically, in this case, it must prove: a) that Meter No. 31D551-57 was defective; b) that, being defective, Meter No. 31D551-57 failed to register the actual electric consumption of Victoria; and c) that Meralco was not negligent in the inspection and repair of said electric meter.

 

Agreeing with the RTC, the CA held that Meralco failed to prove the factual basis for charging Victoria a differential billing.  The CA held:

 

But whether plaintiff-appellee is liable for her alleged unregistered consumption is entirely a different matter.  We agree with the trial court that based on the evidence presented by both parties, the trial court found that there is no significant difference in the energy consumed by the plaintiff before the so-called defective period (January 29, 1993 to July 4, 1995) and the defective period itself.  The court said:

 

First, there was no proven dramatic increase nor decrease between the KWH consumption of the plaintiff before January 29, 1993 and July 4, 1995.  While defendant claims that subsequent laboratory testing done on the meter revealed that the meter did not register the correct KWH consumption, this cannot stand alone to convince the Court on the propriety of a 50% differential billing upon plaintiff, there being a disturbing fact that “no dramatic increase or decrease of KWH consumption” was reflected on plaintiff’s electric billing after the alleged defective meter was replaced, this fact having been confirmed by defendant’s witness Roberto Salas upon cross-examination, to wit:

 

Q:  Just to make it clear so we will not be confused, Mr. Witness.  This Exhibit AA-1 is a part of the period during which the brushing transformer of Mrs. Jose which is alleged found to be defective by your company and AA-2 is the period during which no defect found by your companyNow, can you please tell this Honorable Court whether or not you see any dramatic increase in the kilowatt consumption between thiss AA-1 and AA-2, by dramatic I mean a 50% increase and decrease?

 

Court:  AA-1 that is prior to January 29, 1995?

 

Atty. Sugayan:  This is supposedly “defective period”.  Exhibit AA-2 is the period prior to the “defective period”.

 

Witness:  I can see no sudden increase or sudden drop in kilowatt consumption.

 

Court:  Well, can you clarify Mr. Witness because the counsel is asking you what is the difference.

 

Atty. Sugayan:  If there is a dramatic increase or decrease.

 

Court:  Between AA-1 which is found to be alleged “defective period” and AA-2 the bushing is perfect.

 

Atty. Sugayan:  Yes, Your Honor, a dramatic meaning a 50% increase or decrease either way.

 

A:  Based on this exhibit there is no dramatic increase or decrease. (TSN of August 13, 1998, pp. 17-20).”

 

A careful examination of the records shows that the conclusion of the trial court is correct.  To demonstrate, during the month of September 30 to October 20, 1992, plaintiff-appellee was billed P4,569.36 for 1,529 KWH used.  This was one of the months before the “defective period.”  But, during the defective period (January 29, 1993 to July 4, 1995) where the plaintiff-appellee surprisingly consumed 1,840 KWH for the same billing month of 1993, particularly September 29, 1993 to October 29, 1993.  There was, in fact, an increase of consumption during the defective period, instead of an alleged 50% decrease xxx.26   (Underscoring original)

 

            We find no cogent reason to disturb the findings of fact of the CA.

           

Assailing the CA findings, Meralco argues that the report and testimony of Inoferio are expert evidence on the defectiveness of Meter No. 31D551-57 and its failure to register 50% of the actual electric consumption of Victoria cannot be controverted merely by the latter’s billing history.

 

That is only partly correct.  The Service Inspection Report issued by Inoferio and witnessed by an employee of Victoria is substantial evidence that the latter’s electric meter was defective.  In said Service Inspection Report, Inoferio clearly stated that he actually inspected the electric meter in question and found the defects described therein.  Victoria did not adduce evidence to impeach the expertise of Inoferio nor controvert his technical findings on this matter.

 

However, while the Service Inspection Report is evidence of the defectiveness of Meter No. 31D551-57, it is not evidence of the duration of the defect or the extent of the incapacity of said meter to record the full electric consumption of Victoria.  There is nothing in the Service Inspection Report about any 50% reduction in the capacity of the meter to register electric consumption.

 

Instead, as aptly concluded by the CA, the only basis of Meralco’s claim that defective Meter No. 31D551-57 registered only 50% of the actual electric consumption of Victoria, appears to be a mere company policy as testified to by Meralco Billing Clerk Roberto M. Salas who said that their computation of the P230,385.20 differential billing of Victoria Jose is based, not on any actual variable, but an existing company policy that the maximum duration of any defects in an electric meter is two years.27

 

Such company policy is highly questionable, especially that it appears to have been negated by Meralco’s own record of the billing history of Victoria. 

 

Contrary to Meralco’s protestation, the billing history of Victoria is relevant evidence for any inordinate reduction or increase in the capacity of her defective electric meter to register her actual electric consumption would naturally be reflected therein.  An examination of Victoria’s billing history reveals no marked disparity or fluctuations in her KWH consumption during the period January 29, 1993 to July 4, 1995, when her electric meter was supposed to be defective and during the periods immediately preceding and succeeding it.  Instead, it shows a pattern of constancy which rules out even the slightest possibility that her defective electric meter registered only 50% of her actual electric consumption.  Such documented pattern certainly prevails over Meralco’s company policy on the matter.

 

More important, as correctly noted by the CA, Meralco acknowledged that the standard precaution it should take in the maintenance of its electric meters is to subject the same to polyphase meter test twice every year.  It appears, however, that with reference to Meter No. 31D551-57, the same was subjected to polyphase meter test for the first time in 1995, or seven years from its installation in 1987.  Such delay in inspection constitutes gross negligence on the part of Meralco in the maintenance of said electric meter; thus,  it should bear sole liability for any loss arising from the defects in said meter, including any unregistered and unbilled electric consumption.28  It cannot pass such liability to Victoria by issuing to her a differential billing, much less threaten her with disconnection for non-payment.  Meralco was therefore correctly enjoined by the RTC and the CA from collecting on its differential billing against Victoria.   

 

Coming now to the issue on damages, Meralco’s gross negligence in the performance of the maintenance of its devices and equipment and its arbitrary issuance of a differential billing to Victoria brought upon the latter much anxiety and aggravation.29  It should therefore be liable to her for moral damages.  It should also be liable for exemplary damages to curb similar arbitrary practices.30

 

However, we find the award of P500,000.00 in moral damages and P500,000.00 in exemplary damages to be excessive.  Moral damages and exemplary damages are not intended to enrich the complainant in order to punish the defendant.31  Moral damages are for reparation of the spiritual status quo ante; a means to assuage the moral suffering of the complainant brought about by the culpable action of the defendant.  The award of moral damages must then be commensurate to the suffering or proportionate to the wrong committed.32  An award of P100,000.00 approximates the anxiety suffered by Victoria.

 

As to exemplary damages, the purpose in holding a defendant liable for it is deterrence.33  Meralco must curb its callousness toward its customers and its inattention to its duty of keeping its facilities and equipment well maintained.  We hold it liable for exemplary damages in the amount of  P50,000.00.

 

WHEREFORE, the petition is PARTLY GRANTED.  The Decision of the Court of Appeals is AFFIRMED with modification that the award of moral damages and exemplary damages  is reduced to P100,000.00 and P50,000.00, respectively.

 

No costs.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

MA. ALICIA AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ

Associate Justice

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

CONSUELO YNARES-SANTIAGO

Associate Justice

Chairperson

 

 

 

ROMEO J. CALLEJO, SR.

Associate Justice

MINITA V. CHICO-NAZARIO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

(On leave)

ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA

Associate Justice

 

 

ATTESTATION

 

 

            I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

 

 

 

CONSUELO YNARES-SANTIAGO

Associate Justice

Chairperson, Third Division

 

 

CERTIFICATION

 

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, and the Division Chairperson’s Attestation, it is hereby certified that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

 

 

 

REYNATO S. PUNO

Chief Justice


___________________________

 

*On leave.

 

1Penned by Associate Justice Romeo A. Brawner (now retired) and concurred in by Associate Justices Bienvenido L. Reyes and Eliezer R. delos Santos (now deceased).

 

2Entitled “Ma. Victoria D. Jose, Plaintiff-Appellee, versus Manila Electric Company, Defendant-Appellant,” records, pp. 47-54.

 

3Id. at 485.

 

4Exhibit “3”, Records, p. 181.

 

5Exhibit “1”, Id. at 179.

 

*Bushing current transformer.

 

6Exhibit “2”, Records, p. 180.

 

7Records,  p. 11.

 

8Id. at 10.

 

9Id. at 12.

 

10Id. at 13.  Copy of this report cannot be found in the Records.

 

11Id. at 25.

 

12Exhibit “D”, Records, p. 25.

 

13Records, p. 1.

 

14Id. at 27.

 

15Id. at 94.

 

16Id. at 492.

 

17]CA rollo, p. 122.

 

18Rollo, p. 14.

 

19Bank of the Philippine Islands v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 142731, June 8, 2006, 490 SCRA 168, 175.

 

20Petition, Rollo, pp. 21-23.

 

21Exhibits “D” through “Y-1”,  Id. at 116-127.

 

22Comment, Id. at 72-79.

 

23Record, p. 200.

 

24Ridjo Tape and Chemical Corporation v. Court of Appeals, 350 Phil. 184, 192 (1998). 

 

25Manila Electric Company v. Macro Textile Mills Corporation, 424 Phil. 811, 827 (2002).

 

26CA Decision, CA rollo, pp. 128-129.

 

27Id. at 130-131.

 

28Davao Light & Power Co., Inc. v. Opeña, G.R. No. 129807, December 9, 2005, 477 SCRA 58, 83; Manila Electric Company v. Macro Textile Mills Corporation,  supra note 25 at 828.

 

29Cagungun v. Planters Development Bank, G.R. No. 158674,  October 17, 2005, 473 SCRA 259, 271.

 

30Estolas v. Acena, G.R. No. 157070, January 14, 2005, 448 SCRA 233, 252.

 

31Philippine Airlines, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 127473, December 8, 2003, 417 SCRA 196, 212.

 

32YHT Realty Corporation v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 126780,  February 17, 2005, 451 SCRA 638, 662.

 

33Solidbank Corporation v. Arrieta, G.R. No. 152720, February 17, 2005, 451 SCRA 711, 722.

 

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