‘It’s karma’: ERC’s P19M fine vs Meralco justifiable, says Marcos
MANILA, Philippines — The P19 million fine placed by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) against Manila Electric Corporation (Meralco) for the so-called ‘bill shock’ it dealt its consumers was justifiable, a senator said on Friday.
The fine was for Meralco’s inability to inform consumers that they would be basing electric bills during the lockdown periods on the average consumption for the past three months. This move was adopted since the COVID-19 pandemic prevented Meralco personnel from doing on-site meter reading.
Senator Imee Marcos, who chairs the Senate committee on economic affairs, said that the fine slapped on Meralco was a result of its “karma,” as the electric company’s attitude supposedly boomeranged.
“Meralco boomeranged on its own mess. Its condescending attitude toward customers reaped its karma, after causing confusion, anxiety and inconvenience in the middle of a health and economic crisis,” Marcos said.
“Meralco has been put on notice that it cannot escape the consequences of future bill shocks or any form of abuse on electricity consumers,” Marcos said.
ERC chair Agnes Devanadera said in a statement on Thursday that Meralco’s inability to inform its customers of the sudden change in the billing system caused chaos and confusion during the pandemic.
After Meralco was able to do meter reading activities again, it made adjustments to the billings, and eventually corrected discrepancies in the March and April billings. This however led to higher bills, which prompted some customers to question whether Meralco was taking advantage of the pandemic.
Meralco clarified that the electric bills were fairly computed and that the sudden increase was also complicated by an increased time at home with the stay-at-home polices and the summer season.
Still, customers questioned whether it was possible that bills rose exponentially, with one user showing that his bill rose from just P2,600 and P2,500 in March and April to over P9,000 in May. Another Meralco customer claimed he has not spent time at his Quezon City home since the lockdowns started, but he was still billed around P1,000.
Meralco assured that they would look into the issue. Regarding the ERC fine, Meralco said they have not yet received a copy of the order, but assured that they will file necessary pleadings.
Marcos clarified that the fine does not mean Meralco is already off the hook, explaining that there are still a lot of questions to be answered, especially regarding possible disconnections in the succeeding months.
“What happens to the staggered payments that customers have earlier made on the exorbitant estimates, out of fear that their power supply would be cut off?” Marcos asked.
“The next thing we should watch out for is whether Meralco will pass on to us the costs of its penalties,” she added.
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