Group wants relief from power bills; Meralco asks users to consider supply chain
MANILA, Philippines — A consumer group has urged the government to impose a moratorium on Manila Electric Corporation (Meralco) bills until the quarantine periods due to the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted.
The Power for People Coalition (P4P) said Thursday that this request stems from the record-high 45.5 percent unemployment rate recorded in a July survey, and the recession of the economy as the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in the second quarter of the year shrank 16.5 percent.
“Almost half of Filipinos are out of work. We have lost almost a fifth of our GDP and entered the worst recession in our country’s history. The threat of COVID-19 continues to stalk our countrymen. Yet Meralco continues to mercilessly bill its customers even as it also holds on to the money they received from overbilling them in the past,” P4P convenor Gerry Arances said.
But Meralco also appealed for some consideration from its consumers, as it had earlier assured continuous electricity supply until September — or six months since the government imposed enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in many areas.
Meralco spokesperson Joe Zaldarriaga said the company also spend to ensure an unbroken energy supply chain.
“We have already stated that there will be no disconnection of service until the end of September. So that means if a consumer has not paid since March when the lockdown period started middle of that month, effectively that’s already more than six months that the bills will have remained unpaid,” Zaldarriaga told INQUIRER.net.
“Also the electricity has already been used and consumed by the customer thus there was already a cost incurred for generation, transmission, distribution, and other charges including the remittance of government taxes,” he added.
Zaldarriaga went on to explain that power distributed in Metro Manila and nearby provinces are not only a product of Meralco but several other industries.
“Meralco on the average accounts for only 20 percent of the entire bill with the biggest share in the bill going to generation. Meralco rates are also socialized in structure as those consuming 100 kwh (kilowatt-hour) and below are given subsidies ranging from 20 to 100 percent,” he noted.
“There is also an entire supply chain, we all need to consider as well when deciding on matters such as what is being suggested because Meralco is only one of the many entities included in the energy supply chain,” he explained.
Issues with high electricity bills surfaced last May, after suspended meter reading operations due to the health crisis forced Meralco and other utility services to rely on computations based on average consumption three months prior.
However, some customers complained of bills surging from just around P2,600 in March to over P9,300 in May. Another customer from Quezon City said that he was billed over P1,200 for April even if he never stayed at his house for the whole ECQ.
But Meralco also clarified before that the increase contained adjustments due to computation, as the high bills already reflected consumption based on actual meter readings. It also stressed that the stay-at-home and telecommuting policies, as well as the summer season itself, had something to do with the surge.
Despite this, P4P insisted that it is wrong to assume that Meralco needs the money when they supposedly still have to refund around P19 billion to customers.
“Meralco cannot say they need the money. They want the money of course, but they already have P19 billion in refunds never returned, the meter and bill deposits of consumers amounting to 28.5 billion which they use for their operations without compensation for the owners of the money, and its force majeure clause on power contracts,” Arances said.
“Everyone is being called to make sacrifices at this difficult time. It is only fair that the largest distribution utility in the country, considering its history of overbilling and profiteering at the consumers’ expense, should at least for once, consider the plight of poor households who are now struggling to survive. Bigyan sana ng konting liwanag ang buhay nila,” Arances added.
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