While Senator Win Gatchalian commends the Energy Regulatory Commission’s (ERC) swift move against Meralco, he warns other distribution utilities (DUs) that have committed similar lapses in relation to the advisories issued by the commission aimed at alleviating the financial burden of electricity consumers.
The ERC on Thursday issued a Decision ordering Meralco to pay nineteen million pesos (PHP 19 M) for one, failing to indicate clearly that the March to May 2020 billings were “estimated”, and two, for failing to properly inform its consumers that the cumulative amount of electricity bill that was supposed to have fallen within the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) period shall be amortized in four equal monthly installments.
Gatchalian pointed out the total penalty is almost three hundred million pesos (PHP 300 M), citing the same ERC Decision that Meralco will have to set to zero the Distribution, Supply, and Metering (DSM) charges of each of the lifeline consumers whose monthly energy consumption does not exceed 100 kWh for one month cycle of billing. The discount to be provided to all lifeline consumers is estimated to be around two hundred seventy-five million pesos (PHP 275 M), based on the May 2020 records of ERC. This directive becomes effective in the next billing cycle immediately upon receipt of the ERC Decision.
“This should serve as a stern warning against all erring distribution utilities that might face the same consequences. Magsilbing leksyion sana ito sa iba pang distribution utilities sa bansa na hindi sumusunod sa mga panuntuan ng power regulator,” stressed Gatchalian.
“Ang mga panggigipit at pananamantala sa panahon ng krisis at pandemya ay nararapat lamang na patawan ng karampatang kaparusahan. Maliit na halaga lamang, kung tutuusin, ang naturang multa kung ikukumpara sa idinulot na kalituhan at pasaning bayarin ng milyung-milyong residente lalo na yung may sapat lamang na kita araw-araw,” he added.
Gatchalian empathizes with the millions of Meralco consumers as he himself complained of apparent bill shock over bills covering the ECQ period.
Aside from apparent miscalculated and inaccurate billing amounts, public outrage against Meralco also stemmed from technical problems in paying their bills, such as the P47 “convenience fee” charged for paying bills through its website or mobile app.
It can be recalled that in a hearing conducted by the Energy Committee, the senator grilled Meralco officials over “underestimation” and “overestimation” of electricity bills and asked the officials to send each consumer-household a separate clarificatory letter that showed exact previous readings.