Energy agency told to prioritise people’s welfare over profits
Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go called on the Department of Energy (DoE), Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), and other concerned agencies to look into the growing complaints regarding alleged cases of unjust electricity bills that some consumers received from power distribution utilities, such as the Manila Electric Co (Meralco).
“Protect the interest and welfare of the ordinary Filipinos especially at this time when the people are in a difficult situation due to the crisis caused by the Covid-19,” Go said.
Go asked the concerned agencies to further clarify to the public the discrepancy between the electricity rates during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) when actual meter reading was not possible and the reflected amount in June billings.
In a statement, ERC chairman Agnes Devanadera said, “We have been bombarded with complaints on Meralco’s alleged high billings covering the past three months, including this May. We need to look into these consumers’ allegations and so we require Meralco to submit to us data or information for us to validate the accuracy of their billing calculations.”
The senator, then, urged the ERC to investigate the issue further and ensure that consumers are charged the right amount without overburdening them in this time of pandemic.
“The Filipinos are already hard up and many have gotten ill. Added to these is the headache in understanding the unclear guidelines regarding payments,” he said.
Go emphasised that while Meralco had made efforts to explain the reason behind the increased amount of electricity bills through their public statements, further clarifications and corrective measures were necessary to give consumers the assurance that there was no overcharging.
He pointed out that now, more than ever, profits should not be prioritised over the welfare of the general public. The government, he said, should not tolerate any unfair business practices at a time when people’s lives are at risk. Go also requested the power companies to defer disconnection should some of their consumers fail to pay their electricity bills incurred during the ECQ.
“For three months, we have barred them from going to work. We compelled them to stay at home. It is only now that businesses are opening up and people going back to work. Let’s not put additional burden on our countrymen,” he added.
Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said that as early as May 15, the DoE has written to Meralco seeking an explanation regarding complaints on the spike in their electricity bills.
On May 26, the DoE called the executives of Meralco so they could personally explain these spikes, which has caused additional worry to consumers, and advised them that they should re-issue the electricity bills based on actual meter readings instead of using the estimated average consumption.
Another meeting was then held on June 3 to discuss the implementation of earlier suggestions to issue new electricity bills to consumers. During the meeting, Meralco also informed DoE that they would be issuing advisories explaining the May and June billings, through letters, social media posts and print media notices.
The DoE also attended several meetings called by the Joint Congressional Energy Commission and the House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy to discuss the “bill shock” issue.
To date, Meralco has re-issued June billings based on the actual meter readings with customer-specific explanations on the computation and how it will be paid on instalment basis.