By Hannah Torregoza
The Department of Energy and Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) should expedite the release of electricity bills payment advisory for areas under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) to clear the confusion among consumers complaining of high fees being collected by the Manila Electric Corp. (Meralco) this month of May.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chair of the Senate energy committee, made the call during Thursday’s Senate committee of the whole hearing on the government’s COVID-19 response, as he stressed the need for the DOE and ERC to address power consumers’ bill shock.
Gatchalian said the controversy has overshadowed the two agency’s achievements and efforts in ensuring the stability of the country’s power sector and the constant delivery of electricity in every household during the ECQ.
Earlier, the senator hit Meralco’s confusing billing statement for May, which he pointed out was the root cause of the confusion for many power consumers.
“Marami sa ating kababayan ang nagkaroon ng bill shock noong lumabas po yung May billing nila. Maraming nagalit, marami ang na-confuse (Many of our people experienced bill shock when they saw their electricity bill this month of May. Many are angry, many are confused),” Gatchalian noted.
“Sinasabi nila, nawalan na nga sila ng trabaho tapos pababayaran pa ng napakalaking bill (They’ve been saying, they already lost their jobs and yet they have to pay such huge bill),” he said.
The lawmaker said his office has started initial inquiries on whether or not Meralco has taken advantage of the current pandemic situation to the detriment of the Filipino consumers.
But during the hearing, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said Meralco has yet to provide them details as to how they computed consumers’ billing statement for May.
ERC Chairperson Agnes Devanadera, on the other hand, told senators the Commission has already instructed Meralco to provide separate electricity bills falling within the ECQ and MECQ period, as she admitted that the agency is also confused over Meralco’s billing statement.
Nevertheless, the ERC has already issued two advisories deferring payment of electricity bill falling due within the ECQ, without interest, penalties, fees and other charges: April 15 advisory covering the period March 16, 2020 to April 30, 2020 and May 5 advisory extending the deferment period until May 15, 2020.
Gatchalian reminded Meralco of its obligation to follow the ERC advisories on the proper computation of electricity bills and correct payment dates of bills due within the ECQ period.
“Kung ang regulator ay hindi maintindihan itong Meralco bill, malamang mas lalo na si Juan dela Cruz (If the regulator itself cannot understand this Meralco bill, I’m sure any ordinary Juan dela Cruz won’t either),” he said.
“I would like to urge the regulator and the department to find a solution to this. Marami na po talagang galit (A lot of power consumers are really angry),” Gatchalian appealed.