‘Token penalty’ should not revive billing dispute

Published September 4, 2020, 12:29 PM

by Manila Bulletin

The problem of disputed billings of the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) came up last May when customers, under lockdown since March, received their bills for the previous months. The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) had issued a directive that distribution services like Meralco may use the rule on estimated billing with the word “estimate” written on the bill and stating that the corresponding adjustments will be made as soon as practicable.
The subsequent complaints became the subject of a Senate hearing in which Meralco said its estimates had been based on previous bills for the months of December and January when, it said, consumption was lower than in the summer months.

Nevertheless, in the wake of the complaints, Meralco withdrew all disputed billings for the first six months of the year 2020. Customers would be paying ₱1.06 per kilowatt-hour less than what they paid for the first six months of the previous year 2019.

Meralco President and CEO Atty. Ray C. Espinosa said it will continue to find ways to bring its costs down, including systems loss, as the company apologized for not clearly explaining the electric bills. It was a welcome end to complaints over the billings made at the time of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).

Last week, a month after the dispute over billings had settled down, the ERC announced that it was slapping a ₱19-million fine as a “token penalty” on Meralco for failing to indicate its bills were an “estimate” and it did not comply with the mandated installment payment scheme. The ₱19-million fine, it said, was based on the basic penalty of ₱100,000 times 190 days of violations.

Atty. Jose Ronald Valles, head of regulatory management of Meralco, said they would study the ERC order and file the appropriate pleading.

We hope this new development of a ₱19-million “token penalty” will not lead to any new dispute over billings, including those made by the other distributing utility companies other than Meralco. Many of these distributors, including cooperatives, had also sent out bills before they received ERC’s directive allowing billings based on “estimate,” dated April 15 but allegedly received by many in May.

The controversy over bills issued during the lockdown period became a big issue for a time but it has now been settled to everybody’s satisfaction. We hope this late “token penalty” imposed by the ERC will not revive any new dispute and controversy.