Minority Bloc warns profiteering utilities as electric bill shocks mount

By Ellson Quismorio

The House Minority Bloc won’t tolerate profiteering from companies, especially those involved in utilities, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rep. Bienvenido 'Benny' Abante Jr. (Facebook / MANILA BULLETIN) Rep. Bienvenido 'Benny' Abante Jr. (Facebook / MANILA BULLETIN)

House Minority Leader, Manila 6th district Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr. gave this warning in a virtual press conference on May 20, Wednesday, as complaints about exorbitant electric bills from consumers continue to mount.

“We would like to warn the essential services natin na mga companies (We would like to warn our essential services, these companies) to please stop profiteering. Sapagkat ‘yan po ay labag sa batas (Because that is against the law),” Abante said.

“Kapag hindi kayo makinig sa warning na ‘yan ay baka kami sa Minority (If you refuse to heed that warning then we at the Minority)… we’re going to do something about that,” he added.

Under Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 or the “Bayanihan to Heal as One” Act, profiteering is punishable by a penalty of two months imprisonment or a fine of not less than ₱10,000 but not more than ₱1 million, or both.

Abante said that among the objectives of RA No.11469 is to “provide economic relief to our countrymen by requiring lending institutions to suspend loan payments, bill payments and the like.”

“However, we have now received reports of consumers dealing with bill shocks, especially with regard to their Meralco bills. Mukhang hindi malinaw ang basehan sa mga dagdag sa electric bills natin (It seems that the basis for the additional cost in our bills isn’t clear). Even accounting for additional consumption because of the summer season and because we spent the majority of our time at home, it’s still shocking to see electric bills double and triple their usual rates,” he said.

Meralco, or the Manila Electric Company, is the lone electric power distributor in Metro Manila, which for most of the past two months has been under an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) as a result of the pandemic.

“We urge the Department of Energy (DOE) to step in and address this issue as our people have to deal with so much already. They are fearful for their health, their lives, and their livelihood. Let us spare them the added anxiety of having to deal with inexplicable bills that they are not in a position to contest,” the Minority leader said, noting that the contagion discourages people from leaving their homes to file a complaint.

Not isolated

“Hindi ito isolated, ito ay nangyari sa lahat (This is not isolated, it has happened to all consumers),” ACT-Teachers Party-List Rep. France Castro said during the same presser.

“Huwag naman magsamantala ang Meralco sa panahon ng pandemya (Meralco shouldn’t take advantage of the pandemic),” added the Makabayan solon.

But Deputy Minority Leader, Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Carlos Zarate said even consumers outside Meralco’s service area are being billed higher than usual.

“Kahit sa probinsya ay nagkakagulantangan din. Ang laki-laki ng mga bills na dapat bayaran ng mga consumers, despite the fact na napakaliit naman ng kanilang consumption these past months (Even consumers from the countryside are experiencing bill shocks. They got charged with huge amounts, despite the fact that their consumption was low these past months),” he said.

Zarate said that, aside from house tenants, small and micro entrepreneurs have already been gravely affected by the questionable electric billing.

“Iba kasi ‘yung billing nila. May guaranteed minimum consumption sila na binabayaran sa kanilang electricity provider na hindi kapareha sa residential. So kahit wala silang consumption, babayaran parin nila ‘yun. Mayroon akong kakilala na umabot na sa P1 million ‘yung kanyang bill (They are billed differently. Unlike with households, they pay a guaranteed minimum consumption to their electricity provider. So even if they have zero consumption, they still have to pay. I know someone whose bill reached P1 million because of this),” he said.