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ERC should probe high Meralco bills – Bayan Muna

/ 10:46 PM May 18, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) should investigate complaints that electric bills of Manila Electric Company (Meralco) increased more than twice in just a month, members of party-list group Bayan Muna said on Monday.

Bayan Muna Chairman Neri Colmenares and Rep. Carlos Zarate stressed that the investigation would be necessary with the country reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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During the pandemic, the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, or Republic Act No. 11469, allows the government to take over utility services if proven that the company is using the health crisis to gain profit.

According to Colmenares and Zarate, electric bills should have not increased — even as Meralco claimed high power usage due the stay-at-home measure imposed during the quarantine — because President Rodrigo Duterte recently mentioned a downward trend in electric demand.

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“The recent Meralco justification that the surge in electricity bills of consumers is a result of higher consumption is questionable, especially since President Duterte reported a downward trend in demand during the lockdown period,” Zarate said in a statement.

“The ERC must investigate the complaint of  surge in electricity bills since the government is empowered under Section 4 [i] and [u] of the Bayanihan law to regulate the supply power, fuel, energy and water and protect the people from profiteering, cartels, monopolies and other pernicious practices,” he added.

Previously, Meralco answered queries from angry consumers who complained that their electric bills increased twice or even thrice, from just the  March-to-April to the April-to-May billing period.

Consumer group Power for People (P4P) showed several bills, including one from an anonymous user which saw a drastic increase — from P2,671.86 in March to P2,525.10 in April to P9,358.52 by May.

Another user told INQUIRER.net that his electric consumption continued even if he had not been staying in his house since the Metro Manila lockdown started.

Meralco spokesperson Joe Zaldarriaga explained that the high difference between the billings — March, April, and May — was because meter reading was suspended during the enhanced community quarantine over Luzon  due to safety concerns.

Thus, Meralco was left to estimate the bills based on the average consumption for the previous three months — December, January, and February — all cold months and are usually low-consumption periods compared to the summer season.

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Zaldarriaga said that the discrepancies in the March and April bills were then added to the May bill.  He assured consumer, however, that any changes in the bill would be fixed as Meralco personnel had started conducting meter readings for more accurate bills.

But Colmenares believes that the spike in electric bills is further proof that people cannot enjoy low electricity rates if only one company controls a utility over a given area, as there are no options to choose from.

“Meralco’s skyrocketing rates provide consumers and lawmakers alike painful proof that the law of supply and demand does not work when only one company – a monopoly like Meralco — controls the supply of a product or service,” Colmenares explained.

“That’s why it is important that we must review the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) and file new laws repealing EPIRA provisions that allow cross-ownership between distribution utilities and gencos at the minimum or repealing EPIRA all together,” he added.

Issues with Meralco have hovered as the enhanced community quarantine over Luzon last March forced the suspension of work, except for essential frontline services.  Several sectors have asked the company to just refund the entire March bill and charge it against pending refunds.

As of now, Meralco offers customers a staggered mode of payment, under which consumers can pay the electric bill in four installments starting May 30, which will allow them to recover from the work suspensions.

/atm

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TAGS: 2019 Novel Coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, Bayan Muna, consumer rights group, coronavirus strain, COVID-19, ECQ, electricity bill, enhanced community quarantine, high electricity rates, Joe Zaldarriaga, lockdown, Manila Electric Company, MERALCO, nCoV update, Neri Colmenares, P4P, Philippine news updates, Power 4 People Coalition, Rep. Carlos Zarate, service interruptions, summer
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