SPEAKER Alan Peter Cayetano has appealed to Manila Electric Company (Meralco) to provide relief to millions of small electricity users in Metro Manila and neighboring areas amid the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic.
“I don’t want to put you on the spot because I know you are running a business, you have your shareholders. But may I request if you could do something about lifeline consumers -- whether it’s an additional discount or a longer delay in payment,” Cayetano told company officials during a House committee on good government and public accountability hybrid hearing on power-related issues on July 15, 2020.
Cayetano said that while Meralco is already giving some relief to lifeline consumers or those who are using 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity or less a month, it should look into the possibility that it can “do more as a company that has served Greater Metro Manila area and more than that, but also has its share of profits and profitability.”
“I am sure President Duterte will appreciate it, ” Cayetano said.
Cayetano also urged other private companies, particularly banks and malls, to work with the government and each other to ease the burden of the pandemic on the public. While thanking them for the help they have already extended to their employees, customers, and renters.
He said he knows of some mall owners who have waived rent for their lessees for two to three months.
In return for helping the public, the House and the government can work with mall owners, banks, and other private establishments to make it easier for businesses to survive the health crisis, said Cayetano.
Meanwhile, Cayetano urged Meralco and other electricity distributors to obtain the lowest possible price for their customers.
“I know this is technical, but how much of your electricity are you getting from the spot market, and how much is under supply contracts from power producers? And which is more expensive? Because if you’re not giving the best possible price to the public, then it’s possible that you have sweetheart deals,” he said.
At the same time, he urged the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and other government agencies to be “more progressive in interpreting the law.”
He said the ERC sometimes appears to be favoring private companies in the energy sector instead of protecting the public.
The Speaker cited the case of one big power firm that obtained a temporary restraining order from a regional trial court, stopping the government from collecting billions from it despite the fact that under the law, only the Supreme Court has the power to issue such an order.
“What have the ERC and the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. done about it?” he said.
Citing the case of shuttered radio-television network ABS-CBN, Cayetano said the Bureau of Internal Revenue had declared that its alleged tax avoidance through a subsidiary enjoying tax privileges was legal.
He said this resulted in ABS-CBN paying only P600 million in taxes while rival network GMA-7 paid P3 billion.
“Just because what they have done is legal doesn’t mean that they are not abusing the system,” he said.
“This is where regulators and other agencies have to interpret the law in favor of the public,” he added.