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Amid high rates, interruptions, group asks: Is Meralco taking advantage of ECQ?

/ 07:39 PM May 11, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – A consumer rights group has asked whether electric service provider Manila Electric Company (Meralco) has been taking advantage of the COVID-19 lockdowns to get away with sudden high electricity rates and interruptions.

Power 4 People Coalition (P4P) on Monday urged the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to do an investigation on the issue, especially after several Meralco customers complained of electric bills thrice as high as their billings before the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

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“We cannot help but feel that Meralco is using the ECQ as a convenient scapegoat to cover up their shortcomings. While it is understandable that people at home will consume more electricity, it is incredible that consumption would increase three or four more times in just a month,” P4P Convenor Gerry Arances said in a statement.

“And it is unbelievable that when malls, factories, offices, and other large electrical consumers are closed, Meralco’s grid is suddenly incapable of coping with the demand,” he added.

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According to P4P, there have been 52 tripping incidents recorded as of May 6, while they received several reports that consumption jumped even if they were suffering from various power interruptions while the ECQ over Luzon and other areas were in place.

The group also called on measures to aid people who would be facing huge bills, after collection of payments for utility services was suspended under the ECQ — noting that a lot of workers’ jobs were also suspended while the lockdown was in place.

Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan Heal as One Act has suspended payments of utilities and rent for residential units in areas under the ECQ.

After the ECQ was placed to limit the coronavirus’s local transmission, work was suspended except for essential frontline services.  However, this has left workers who rely on daily earnings and those whose jobs cannot adjust to a work-from-home setup without income through the lockdown.

“People are already very stressed due to the ECQ. They are worried about their jobs, feeding their families, paying the rent, and paying for utilities. The least Meralco can do is deliver the service consumers overpaid for,” Arances explained.

“Even if these payments are suspended, people still have to make good of them after the quarantine. The problem is, not everyone will have a job after ECQ or be eligible for government assistance,” he added.

P4P also noted that Meralco still has to refund customers, in accordance with ERC regulations.  Last March 7, Meralco and 62 other power distributors were ordered to make refunds worth P2 billion.

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Previously, Bayan Muna chair Neri Colmenares suggested that Meralco should waive the entire March bill instead of just extending the payments, by subtracting the P29.6 million worth of overcharged annual distribution charges from the March billing.

READ: Instead of extending bill deadline, Meralco should waive entire March bill — Colmenares 

READ: ERC orders Meralco, 62 other power distributors to give P2.8-B refund 

“I would also like to remind Meralco of the refunds that it still owes consumers.  Now is the opportune time, after correcting the bills, to waive the bills towards the satisfaction of their debt to the people they overcharged for decades,” Arances noted.

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TAGS: 2019 Novel Coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, consumer rights group, COVID-19, COVID-19 lockdowns, ECQ, electric service, Energy Regulatory Commission, enhanced community quarantine, ERC, GCQ coronavirus strain, general community quarantine, Gerry Arances, high electricity rates, lockdown, Manila Electric Company, MERALCO, nCoV update, P4P, Philippine news updates, Power 4 People Coalition, service interruptions
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