Consumers ask Meralco to extend grace period for power line disconnections
MANILA, Philippines — A consumer group trooped to various offices of the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) on Wednesday to demand an extension on the utility firm’s self-imposed moratorium on power lines disconnections.
According to the People for Power Coalition (P4P), Meralco should extend its October 31 grace period for bills that were unpaid during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) periods due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in consideration of the dire financial status of its customers.
P4P said Meralco customers are looking for more flexible ways to pay their bills, aside from charging the unpaid bills to supposedly unsettled refunds from the electric service provider.
“This mobilization, in the time of pandemic, shows the desperate situation of the people all over the Meralco franchise area for the company’s callous disregard for their financial situation,” P4P convenor Gerry Arances said.
“This happened because Meralco always seized on the chance to bill consumers with as much as they think they can get away with, and because the government has not been proactive in curbing Meralco’s excesses,” he added.
Members of the group staged protests in several Meralco offices in Quezon City, Bulacan, Marikina, Laguna, and Cavite, asserting there should be no disconnections amid a crisis and a pandemic.
For its part, Meralco noted that while its own deadline will be on October 31, it has been considerate of its customers’ circumstances.
“Meralco has always been considerate of the circumstances of all our customers. It has been seven months since the start of the pandemic that a disconnection moratorium was and is still being observed,” Meralco spokesperson Joe Zaldarriaga said in a message to INQUIRER.net.
“This is alongside the installment arrangement mandated for consumers of either four or six months depending on their consumption, to ease payments for consumers,” he added.
As the lockdowns affected the country’s economy, with scores of workers losing their jobs due to the closure of establishments, many households and businesses were not able to pay their Meralco bills on time.
Additionally, some customers alleged overcharging in their monthly consumption from March to May — the height of lockdown measures.
But Meralco explained that the bills were only based on the average monthly consumption of its customers three months prior and that the stay-at-home policies and summer heat caused an upsurge in electricity use.
As a reprieve, Meralco allowed users to pay their bills in tranches so that it would not be so much of a burden on consumers.
But leaders of other advocacy groups stressed that extending the grace period may be the least that Meralco can do to help people.
“Consumers do not want to be at the mercy of Meralco. Meralco sets the rates and tells us when to pay them, without any accountability whatsoever […] When you have work from home and online classes, you cannot cut electricity to homes without serious consequences for our country’s ability to recover from the pandemic,” Sanlakas secretary-general Aaron Pedrosa said.
“This bill shock is just one of the many episodes of how Meralco transgresses rights of electric consumers, which only happen because government regulators are incompetent and rendered by an electric industry that believes profit-driven companies provide the service best,” Philippine Movement for Climate Justice national coordinator Ian Rivera added.
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