The main power-distribution utility should be powering households and communities, not stunning them with atrocious charges and billing surges.
It should be made to stop its abusive, unreasonable billing practice under pain of fines, penalties, and other state sanctions.
After all, its franchise to operate is a privilege granted by the State and could be withdrawn anytime when justified by serious violations of its commitments to the government and the public.
And so we fully agree with and strongly support Sen. Imee Marcos in lauding the Energy Regulatory Commission for slapping a P19-million fine on the Manila Electric Co. and demanding a discount on behalf of the power distributor’s smaller customers consuming up to 100 kilowatt hours per month.
Marcos, who chairs the Senate committee on economic affairs, said the penalties imposed by ERC chairperson Agnes Devanadera were “absolutely justified for Meralco’s bill shock on its customers”.
“Meralco boomeranged on its own mess. Its condescending attitude toward customers reaped its karma, after causing confusion, anxiety and inconvenience in the middle of a health and economic crisis,” she added.
Meralco provoked an outcry among its customers after overcharging them during the first three months of lockdown in May to March, without conducting actual meter readings and basing its billing calculations on mere estimates.
“Meralco has been put on notice that it cannot escape the consequences of future bill shocks or any form of abuse on electricity consumers,” the feisty lady lawmaker said.
She added that Meralco “still has a lot of explaining to do,” noting that it may resume disconnections in November, since the staggered four-month bill payments that were eventually granted customers who consume up to 100kwh per month will expire by the end of October.
“What happens to the staggered payments that customers have earlier made on the exorbitant estimates, out of fear that their power supply would be cut off?” she asked.
“The next thing we should watch out for is whether Meralco will pass on to us the costs of its penalties,” Marcos added, appealing to the ERC not to let its guard down.
Earlier, the ERC said it would impose a P19-million fine on Meralco for violating its directives during the enhanced community quarantine.
In a statement, the commission cited these violations of Meralco include failure to clearly indicate that the bills were estimated, and failure to comply with the mandated installment payment arrangement.
It said Meralco has incurred a total of 190 days of violations.
ERC added that for any violation of provisions of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act, its implementing rules and regulations, and any other orders or directives of the Commission has a basic penalty of P100,000.
“Meralco’s neglect to provide accurate and timely information especially during this time of pandemic has created chaos and confusion to most of the electricity consuming public. The Commission issued the relevant advisories with the intention of alleviating the financial burden of the electricity consumers who were most adversely affected by the community quars to antine measures implemented by the government,” ERC chairperson and chief executive officer Agnes Devanadera said.
On top of this, ERC directed Meralco to set to zero the distribution, supply, and metering charges for those who consume 100-kilowatt hours and below per month for a one-month billing cycle.
This is to take effect in the next billing cycle upon Meralco’s receipt of the ERC decision.
“The said retail rate discount will provide temporary economic relief to more than two million lifeline consumers and their family members at least for a month,” ERC said.
The total discount to lifeline consumers would amount to more than P200 million. This should not be charged to non-lifeline customers, the Commission added.
Meralco said it has not yet received a copy of the order from ERC.
“We will study the Order and we will file the appropriate pleading after consultation with our lawyers,” Meralco’s head for regulatory management lawyer Jose Ronald Valles said.