The Bayan Muna party-list group on Friday called on Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) to stop collecting payments for electricity pending an investigation into “shockingly high” bills that some consumers have received—some amounting to three times their usual consumption.
“The shockingly high Meralco bills received by consumers… [are] so highly questionable that both Congress and the ERC (Energy Regulatory Commission) have launched separate investigations,” said Neri Colmenares, Bayan Muna chairman.
“There is a possibility of overcharging considering that no meter reading took place during the lockdown and there is lack of transparency on how the bills were calculated. Many of our people cannot pay these bills and are in danger of losing their electricity service,” he added.
“We call on government to order Meralco not to cut off the electricity service of those who cannot pay these bills as this would be unjust considering that the veracity of the bills are still under investigation.”
Colmenares said cutting off electricity and forcing people to stay in their dark homes in blistering heat could worsen the COVID crisis.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, meanwhile, reiterated his call that Meralco condone the first 200 kilowatt-hours of consumption of all its consumers in consideration of the difficulties brought about by the pandemic and the resulting lockdown.
“Last year, Meralco’s total net profit increased to P22.41 Billion. In 2020, while most companies are growing bankrupt due to the pandemic, Meralco’s core net income during the first quarter increased to P5.7 billion from P5.5 billion during the same period last year. If Meralco will condone at least one-month charges of its customers, they will still profit in the billions for this year,” Zarate said.
Unlike the people who have no savings and profits in the previous years, Meralco has billions in profits that it can forgo, he said.
Condoning the charge for at least 200 Kwh consumption of its customers will not only alleviate the plight of consumers but also help in starting up the local economy as the people will use the condoned payment to buy food and other basic necessities in their community, Zarate added.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Friday reiterated his appeal to the Department of Energy and the ERC to issue a fresh advisory that will help clear the confusion over exorbitant electricity bills amid numerous complaints.
During Thursday’s committee of the whole hearing, Gatchalian grilled the DOE and ERC over the power consumers’ bill shock this month, saying that the controversy has overshadowed the two agency’s achievements and efforts in ensuring the stability of the country’s power sector and the constant delivery of electricity in every household during the enhanced community quarantine.
Gatchalian hit Meralco’s confusing billing statement for May, which he pointed out was the root cause of the confusion for many power consumers. He noted that his office has started initial inquiries on whether or not Meralco has taken advantage of the current pandemic to the detriment of the Filipino consumers.
In his May 19 statement, the senator reminded Meralco of its obligation to follow the ERC advisories on the proper computation of electricity bills and correct payment dates of bills due within the ECQ period.
The ERC has already issued two advisories deferring payment of electricity bill falling due within the ECQ, without interest, penalties, fees and other charges - April 15 advisory covering the period March 16, 2020 to April 30, 2020 and May 5 advisory extending the deferment period until May 15, 2020.
Gatchalian pointed out that the twin ERC advisories state that the cumulative amount of electricity bill due within the ECQ will be amortized in four equal monthly installments, payable in the four succeeding billing months following the end of the ECQ.
The senator said that the power sector should have prepared for the modified ECQ without leaving consumers confused and displeased.
In response to Gatchalian’s queries, ERC Chairperson Agnes Devanadera informed the Senate that the commission has already instructed Meralco to separate electricity bills falling within ECQ and MECQ. Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, on the other hand, told the senator that Meralco should detail its computation and explain the excessive billing statement.
Gatchalian stressed that an advisory will properly guide consumers on the payment of electricity bills.