ERC urged to use P19-M Meralco fine to refund consumers

Published August 30, 2020, 5:00 AM

by Myrna M. Velasco

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has been urged to re-channel the P19 million penalty it imposed against Manila Electric Company (Meralco) as a refund or pay-back to the 50,000 aggrieved customers who legitimately filed their complaints of “bill shocks” as an aftermath of the health crisis lockdown enforced by the government during the summer months.

Atty Victorio Mario Dimagiba, former trade undersecretary and president of advocacy group Laban Konsyumer Inc. (LKI), specifically proposed that “the P19 million fines go to the 50,000 consumers (pro rata), who were prejudiced and had suffered anxiety as fair compensation.”

He opined the ERC cannot have proper or bona fide claim to the penalty, because even the investigations on the bill shocks had not been initiated by it – instead, these were done on the instigation of the Energy Committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

“No amount should be remitted to the ERC because we believe the ERC advisories were the root cause of the confusion on the matter of the estimated billing,” the LKI president stressed.

As a matter of fact, Dimagiba pointed out the ERC is partly to blame for the bill shocks as the consumer-complaints came about “due to the ambiguous ERC advisories.”

During the Senate and House investigations, it was apparent that the ERC officials had the proclivity of suddenly dropping new guidelines – and then the written advisories were just being issued later on without even taking into consideration the intricacies of power distribution system in the country, especially the billing cycles of the distribution utilities – and that was a matter that even the electric cooperatives (ECs) had raised their arms on against the industry regulator.

As Dimagiba emphasized, “it is a matter of record that the complaints on bill shocks came from consumers and that the investigations were done by Congress and the Senate, and belatedly by the ERC.”

He added the complaints on estimated billing actually came from proactive consumers themselves through social media and other platforms. “ERC did not perform any motu propio investigation on its own except that it issued show cause order against Meralco after the fact — when complaints had mounted in the media.”

The LKI president asserted it also came directly from ERC Chairperson Agnes T. Devanadera, when questioned by House Committee on Energy Chairman Lord Allan Velasco, that the regulatory body needed to “review its guidelines on the computation of estimated billing,” as that was already decades-old edict and it warrants updating “because the pandemic situation is totally different.”

Dimagiba thus prodded the aggrieved customers who filed their complaints with the ERC to fight for their rightful claim on the penalty payments that shall be remitted by Meralco.

“It is our civic and social justice and duty that the consumers who raised their complaints on the bill shocks be the beneficiaries of any fines by way of fair compensation and remedial redress for the anxiety, inconvenience, big trouble and harm suffered by them,” he said.