Meralco bides time on moves to disconnect

Published October 11, 2020, 6:00 AM

by Myrna M. Velasco

Power utility giant Manila Electric Company (Meralco) said it will first wait for the guidelines to be issued by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) before serving disconnection notices to consumers that still have arrears or unpaid bills by October 31 this year.

“We will await ERC guidelines or advisory regarding the Bayanihan Act and extension. And we will

comply,” Meralco Spokesperson Joe Zaldarriaga told reporters in a virtual press conference.

Lawrence Fernandez, vice president of Meralco, added that the company will rely heavily on the guidance or advisory that the ERC will issue relating to the rules that shall be applied on the payment grace period under Bayanihan Act 2.

“We don’t want to encounter conflict if ever ERC will issue the guidelines. We will depend greatly on what ERC will say as to their plan for the DUs (distribution utilities),” he stressed.

As it stands today though, Zaldarriaga noted that the billing system of the utility firm will be automatically generating disconnection notices after the lapse of the October 31, 2020 payment leeway extended to customers.

But even if disconnection notices will be generated and sent to its subscribers, he emphasized that actual disconnection of electricity service of customers – especially if they are financially struggling, will not be the company’s priority.

“We have said this time and again, we will be very considerate to our customers because the situation today is really different compared to pre-Covid days or under business-as-usual scenario,” the Meralco executive explained.

If and when the service disconnection notices will be served, Zaldarriaga stated that Meralco customers can still go to their Business Centers and seek reconsideration or opt for an arrangement on extension of payment.

“We understand from where the consumers are coming from – especially those who lost their jobs or others who have financial difficulty. So, we are here to help all our customers in any way we can,” he said.

The policy on prospective extended payment arrangement, he added, is still being sorted because there would still be three-week leeway from now to catch up on their payments before the prescribed cut-off date of October 31.

“We don’t have blanket implementation plan yet because we will have three weeks for our customers to update their payments,” he said, qualifying that if gleaned from data, their subscribers with arrears now just account for a marginal pie of its more than 6.9 million customers.

Under a business-as-usual scenario and as prescribed under the Magna Carta for Residential Electricity Consumers, a disconnection notice is often served to customers at least seven days or one week from their billing due date; and then actual disconnection of service happens just several days after the notice was issued.

But given the economic whip of the pandemic to many Filipino consumers, Zaldarriaga expounded that the mandate of the Magna Carta on service disconnection is currently not strictly implemented.