Preparedness for our near-future & our utility bills

Published February 21, 2021, 12:29 AM

by Philip Cu Unjieng


Philip Cu Unjieng

Are we truly ready for the new version of normalcy? Will the demands of jumpstarting the beleaguered economy outweigh the prevailing health concerns? Is the reality that quarantine fatigue has set, and many are already doubting the veracity of the pandemic reports and spread? When do we embark on a COVID vaccination program? And is the program one that’s embraced by Filipinos? Given the chance to be administered the vaccines, how many would be willing to be “jabbed”? And by which vaccine?

That’s a bunch of questions we all have to face as 2021 unfolds. 2020 can be described as dismal year best forgot. While 2021 speaks of the “light at the end of the tunnel,” the tunnel is one riddled with uncertainty and apprehension. We all know it’s time for a change for the better; but what steps are being taken to effect this? Just look at what happened recently: the IATF was ready to allow cinemas to reopen under strict protocols, but the Metro Manila mayors all feared it would be a “super-spreader” and it’s now deferred until the 1st of March.

In the meantime, what are the small things we can do to bolster our living in this New Abnormal? Most everyone is hurting, income has taken a downturn and managing finances is of the utmost importance. Pre-pandemic, while the conventional wisdom was to consume what you can afford; that was often brushed aside with the hope of a windfall or running on credit fumes. This year, that has to change, with uncertainty such a staple of the prevailing mood.

Enjoying the Cinema in 2021!

If we’re talking “consume what you can afford,” of paramount concern here would be our utility bills. Electricity, water, waste disposal, and sewage – I can’t imagine anyone living in a modern city and not seeing all of the above as essential services. And the truth is that while the pandemic raged last year, and we continued to consume and avail of these utilities, due dates and deadlines for the payments of these bills were deferred. It’s been almost a year, and the fact that we have consumed the electricity or water are matters we will have to face. Continuously deferring that reckoning is more counterproductive to the managing of our finances in the long run.

Meralco, for example, has extended it’s no-disconnection policy until March 31, 2021, for its customers consuming 100 kilowatt-hours (kw) and below monthly. And while some legislators know they can gain political “pogi points” for pushing to extend this beyond March, I don’t believe that really helps anyone in the long run. There are commitments and responsibilities we just have to accept, and I can foresee how more deferrals will only mean bills being even more problematic and insurmountable to manage.

Citizens gripe about how WFH led to an increase in their electricity consumption; but let’s be honest. There was a trade-off, as we reduced our commuting and/or car fuel expenses. Even our monthly food expenses should have gone down, if a lot of it were from eating out in restaurants and coffee shops. It is far more prudent to know what our WFH necessities are – our devices, the electricity, our WiFi – and know how to budget our earning capacity to meet the monthly consumption of these truly essential utilities. It’s far better that we manage those, than continue living on a “holiday break” from paying these bills, and suffering in the long run when we’re disconnected. This may not be what all of us want to hear, but we’d do well to listen.

In the case of Meralco, it’s good to realize that in itself, it’s only a distribution utility (DU). It’s one part of a whole power supply chain. It’s the most visible and recognizable because it’s the one sending the bills, and who we complain to when there’s a brownout. But the truth is that when we receive the Meralco bill, its portion of the bill consists of around 20% of the total. As the DU, The other larger charges, such as generation charge, transmission, and taxes go to separate entities. For those failing to pay their electricity bills, Meralco now has to cover those costs, shouldering them in order to keep servicing us.

MERALCO tried to make our pandemic lives more bearable in 2021. There’s a decrease in the overall power rates for February, and we are enjoying that. For a typical household, the rate decreased by P0.0704 per kwh – from last month’s P8.7497 per kwh to P8.6793 per kwh this February. And know that the February, 2021, overall rate is lower than a year ago, when the rate was P8.8623 per kWh in February 2020.

It’s simplistic to see these utility companies as greedy villains. They provide something essential and we wouldn’t want to live without them. I’m not going to say they’re perfect or without their faults. But I will say that for these companies to survive and continue to service us, there has to be give and take on our part. I don’t see it happening if all we want to do is take.