By Ellson Quismorio
“Paki explain nga #Meralco (Please explain, #Meralco),” Ben Gines, Jr. of Palar Village, Pinagsama, Taguig City wrote on his Facebook Thursday after getting hold of his electric bill for the month of May. He didn’t seem amused.
“For the last three months, ito mga binayaran namin: February 165 kwh (kilowatt hour), March 170 kwh, April 178 kwh. Then ngayong May biglang nag-overshoot sa 468 kwh. Ang babayaran, P6,279.02. Saan nyo nakuha yang reading na yan (For the last three months, these were what we paid: February 165 kWh, March 170 kWh, April 178 kWh. Then for May, it overshot to 468 kWh. The bill is P6,279.02. Where did you get that reading)?” he asked.
Gines’s reaction reflected that of many others who, for the first time since mid-March or the onset of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), saw their obligations to the power utility.
Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Carlos Zarate, who has criticized Meralco in the past for practices allegedly burdensome to consumers, commiserated with the likes of Gines who were shocked to see their first bill during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Ang daming nagrereklamo ang tataas ng babayaran nila kahit nasa panahon tayo ng pandemya (A lot have complained about the high cost of their bills despite being in the middle of a pandemic),” he said Thursday in a virtual press conference
“Samantalang ang Meralco, napakababa nung generation charges na binabayaran nila sa pamahalaan. Eh, bakit sa mga mamamayan ay napakataas ng rates ng kanilang ipinataw? Dapat mababa rin yung babayaran ng consumer (Meanwhile, Meralco has been paying very low generation charges to the government. Why then are they imposing high rates to the people? Consumers’ bills should also be low),” said the House Deputy Minority Leader.
Zarate subsequently prodded the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to step in.
“Kaya tayo nananawagan sa ERC na maimbestigahan ito kung nakinabang nga ba ang mga consumers natin lalong lalo na yung mga mahihirap nating consumers na sobrang tinamaan nitong krisis (We’re appealing to the ERC to investigate and find out whether or not consumers, especially the poor ones hard-hit by the pandemic, indeed benefitted from the low generation charges),” he said.
The solon further said Meralco should follow the example of some electric cooperatives from the countryside, which decided to waive their billings for the sake of their customers. “Bakit hindi ito ginagawa ng Meralco? (Why isn’t Meralco doing this?)”
Meralco actually reduced its electricity rates for May, slashing P0.2483 per kwh for a rate of P8.7468 per kwh this month. The April rate was P8.9951 per kwh.
Generation charge for May was pegged at P4.3848 per kwh, compared to last month’s P4.6385 per kwh – a cut back of P0.2537 per kwh.
However, the power distribution giant is still getting flak for increasing rates in April, despite the public health emergency and the widespread work stoppage caused by the ECQ. It was recalled that the electricity rate last March was P8.8901 per kwh, or P0.1050
per kwh less than April.
“Insensitive ang Meralco at very wrong timing ito considering na malaki sa bahagi ng ating mga workers ang ‘no work, no pay’ at ‘di na rin tiyak kung may babalikan pa silang trabaho sa June (This is insensitive and very wrong timing on the part of Meralco considering that a huge portion of the workers are the ‘no work, no pay’ sector and they’re not even sure if they’ll have a job by June),” ACT-Teacher’s Party-list Rep. France Castro said during the same presser.
Why your bills are shocking
As if expecting the deluge of complaints from customers regarding their latest wave of bills, Meralco also went to Facebook as early as last Monday to give several reasons as to why electricity costs are the way they are.
@Maaaring mas mataas ang bill mo ngayong buwan (Your bill might be higher this month). These are the possible reasons,” it wrote.
“Para sa mga areas na pwede nang basahan ng meter readers, reflected na ang actual consumption sa May bill (For areas where meter reading is allowed, the actual consumption is already reflected in the May bill), plus adjustments on the March and April bills.
“Remember, lahat ng April bills at ilang March bills ay estimated based on average consumption for the past three months dahil sa #ECQ (Remember, all April bills and some March bills have been estimated based on average consumption for the past three months because of the #ECQ) and in accordance to Distribution Services and Open Access Rules or DSOAR issued by the ERC,” Meralco said.
And then there’s the high possibility that electric consumer simply went up during the ECQ period, when people in quarantine areas were advised by the government to stay home.
“Maaaring mas mataas din ang konsumo natin ngayon dahil during ECQ, naging #NewNormal ang staying and working from home, at sinamahan pa ng summer. Kaya mas madalas ang pag gamit ng TV, computer, electric fan, aircon, at ref (It’s possible that our consumption increased during ECQ because staying and working at home became the #NewNormal, not to mention the onset of summer. That’s why we used the TV, computer, electric fan, aircon, and ref more often),” the power utility said.
“For unpaid balances from bills due within ECQ period (March 1 to May 15), pwede mo itong bayaran in four monthly installments. Makikita ang 1st installment sa mga May 16 bill dates onward na sisimulang ipadala ng May 18 (You can pay this in four monthly installments. The first installment can be seen in the May 16 bill onward, which will be sent to consumers beginning May 18),” it also wrote.