The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) on Tuesday assured that there will be no disconnection of electricity supply to households due to non-payment of bills until December 31, 2020.
ERC chairperson Agnes Devanadera told senators that the regulatory agency is now crafting an advisory that will further ease disconnection policies of power distribution utilities (DUs) and electric cooperatives until the end of the year.
During the Senate finance subcommittee’s hearing on the proposed 2021 budgets of the Department of Energy and its attached agencies, Sen. Risa Hontiveros inquired about the October 31 deadline given by the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) to its customers to settle their unpaid bills before their electricity is cut off.
Hontiveros pointed out that consumers are still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns imposed by the government in an attempt to curb its spread.
“Nawalan na nga ng trabaho, baka maputulan pa ng kuryente ngayong Pasko. Paano ang Christmas lights na tradition ng Kristyanong pamilyang Pilipino? Bakit hindi pwedeng hanggang katapusan ng taon, katapusan ng Disyembre, para maging mas masaya naman ang Pasko, at mas puno ng pag-asa ang bisperas ng bagong taon ng lahat ng pamilyang Pilipino,” Hontiveros said. (They already lost their jobs, and they stand to lose their electricity connection this Christmas. How about the Christmas lights that have been part of the tradition of Christian Filipino families? Can we not extend it at least until the end of the year, the end of December, so that their Christmas will be merrier, that Filipino families will be still full of hope in welcoming the New Year.)
“Pwede bang i-extend hangggang katapusan ng taon ‘yung pagputol ng kuryente (Can we extend until year-end the disconnection)?” she asked.
Devanadera said the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2 authorizes the ERC to extend further the leeway given to consumers to pay their electricity bills.
“We are issuing, your honors, the advisory and even before, we have issued advisories, we have always advocated for the relaxation of the disconnection policies of our distribution utilities,” she said.
The ERC official said the DUs and electric cooperatives have so far been compliant and have extended their deadlines.
But she acknowledged: “You’re right, Madame Senator, hanggang October 31 po ang announcement ng Meralco, eh pero paano na rin ang ating Pasko, paano na rin ang bagong taon (but how about our Christmas, how about our New Year).”
“But we would like to thank Congress for the Bayanihan 2, because kasama na po sa i-issue ng ERC itong relaxation ng ating disconnection policy (because the relaxation of the disconnection policy will be included in the advisory to be issued by the ERC). So iyon po ‘yong aasahan (we can expect that),” she said.
When asked by Hontiveros to clarify if the extension will be up to December 31, Devandera replied: “Iyan po ‘yong nakalagay sa aming draft ngayon at sinusundan din po natin ang spirit ng, the letter of the laws (That is what is written in our draft now and we are following the spirit, the letter of the laws).”
The Bayanihan 2 law provides a “minimum of 30-day grace period and staggered payment without interests, penalties, and other charges to all payments due within the period of community quarantine in the electric power value chain to include generation companies, transmission utility, and distribution utilities.”
Devanadera, however, said the upcoming ERC advisory will come with an appeal to consumers to pay their bills if they are already able.
“Panawagan na doon sa kayang magbayad, at merong nang mga pambayad, nakapagpadala na siguro ‘yong kanilang mga anak, ay magbayad na (We appeal to those who can pay, who already have the money to pay, maybe their children have sent them money to settle their bills),” she said.
She said government offices should also not delay further their payment of electricity bills.
Devanadera also said that the ERC is in constant coordination with Congress to help ease the payment of bills for lifeliners, or customers who consume 200 kilowatt hours of electricity and below.
Hontiveros thanked the ERC for its assurance, expressing hope that power utilities will comply with the agency’s upcoming advisory.