Lawmakers call for staggered payment of electric bills amid crisis
MANILA, Philippines — Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Wednesday prodded the government to look for ways to ease payment terms of consumers whose electricity bills are expected to pile up after a month of reprieve due to the lockdown triggered by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.
The Manila Electric Company (Meralco), among other utilities firms, last month gave a 30-day extension to consumers to pay their bills following the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila, and later was expanded to include the entire Luzon.
According to Meralco, consumers who pay via the said app will have to pay an additional P47 convenience fee, he noted.
But Gatchalian, in a statement Wednesday, expressed concern that Filipinos, especially those in the marginalized sector, may not have the financial capacity to pay their two months’ worth of electricity bills in full and therefore risk having their electricity disconnected.
“Dahil nga marami sa ating mga kababayan ang hindi nakakapagtrabaho ngayon, lalo na yung mga ‘no work, no pay’, ang panawagan natin sa ERC (Energy Regulatory Commission) ay gumawa ng hakbang para hindi sila maputulan ng kuryente,” Gatchalian, chair of the Senate energy committee, said.
(Because a lot of Filipinos can’t work right now, especially those under the ‘no work no pay’ scheme, our appeal to the ERC is to ensure that their electricity won’t get disconnected).
Gatchalian suggested a staggered payment of the two months’ worth of electricity bills for not less than three months.
The senator also appealed to Meralco to temporarily waive its convenience fee so that consumers may be able to pay their electricity bill using the company’s mobile app without extra charges.
Bayan Muna chairman Neri Colmenares made the same appeal to Meralco to waive, defer, or deduct electricity bills of consumers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Colmenares said Meralco should emulate the move of electric cooperatives to waive their consumers’ electricity bills.
“It is quite ironic that the supposed small time electric cooperatives are the ones stepping up and are willing to waive the one month electricity bill of the poorest or lifeline consumers,” Colmenares said in a statement.
“Meralco has billions more in capital and profit than these electric cooperatives but it does not have the heart for its consumers who have long been the source of its profits,” he added.
Colmenares said that Meralco can “waive at least the electricity bills of their lifeline consumers and defer the payment of electric bills for at least two months for the others.”
Another option for Meralco is to deduct P500 from the electricity bills of their consumers for two months.
“With these measures then at least to some extent the financial hardships of electricity consumers would be alleviated,” Colmenares said.
Meanwhile, House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate hit the increase in power rate despite the ongoing pandemic.
“While Meralco refused to waive the one month electricity bill for consumers it is at the same time crucifying the consumers with another power rate hike during this time of crisis caused by COVID-19,” Zarate said.
“Meralco is saying that the ₱0.105 per kWh upward adjustment is attributed to the normalization of the universal charge rate. This is questionable that is why we want these universal charges, among them the missonary charges, be investigated because seemingly it is being manipulated to justify the increase in power rates,” he added.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier placed the entire Luzon under an enhanced community quarantine as the number of COVID-19 cases in the country continued to increase.
The quarantine became effective on March 17 and was initially set to be lifted on April 13.
The quarantine period, however, has been extended until April 30.
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