Senator Grace Poe on Monday asked the management of Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) to stop collecting payments from consumers until it comes out with a final and correct billing based on accurate meter reading of the actual kilowatt-hour consumption.
"Still reeling from the COVID-19 backlash, the last thing our consumers need are shocking electricity bills that could throw them off-track anew," the lady senator said.
Poe said the confusing billings and unusually high charges have left many households in distress, especially those who lost their sources of income due to the enhanced community quarantine imposed by the government to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.
"Until such accurately updated bill indicating exact staggered due is received by customers, it is proper that they hold off payment," she said. "This should come with the assurance that our people will not be disconnected from service, while they are stuck at home during the quarantine."
The Power for People Coalition (P4P) earlier sad the response of Meralco to the group’s call for greater transparency and a probe on its billing practice during the ECQ period merely reiterated what they already said and continues to be silent about refunds owed to consumers.
Meralco spokesperson Joe Zaldarriaga said that consumers’ electricity for May bills were carefully and fairly calculated based on the result of the ‘actual kWh consumption’ from the current meter reading, with adjustments already reflected, coming from the estimated consumption done during the ECQ period.
“Mr. Zaldarriaga simply reiterated what Meralco has said before but did not really explain the details on how a single household’s consumption can spike to four times the previous bill’s record. We have receipts, bills which show the difference. Also, we want to ask why they are silent on the refund,” said P4P convenor Gerry Arances.
Meralco has been ordered by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and even by the Supreme Court to refund consumers on multiple occasions in past decades due to its unacceptable billing practices and not all of these orders have been complied with.
“Meralco’s track record does not allow us to just believe what it says when it comes to our bills. In fact, its history shows the opposite, that it tends to charge consumers as much as what it thinks it can get away with and then very reluctantly part with consumers’ money only when it has no other choice,” said Arances.
The energy consumer advocate also noted the efforts of the linemen of Meralco to keep the lights on, but it still does not explain why Meralco’s grid is failing to keep up with demand.
“We all appreciate the hard work of Meralco linemen in repairing any problems with Meralco’s system. But why is there a problem to begin with? Can Mr. Zaldarriaga say with a straight face that people are consuming so much electricity now that they actually consumed more than malls and factories? Because this is not our first summer, and
Meralco still did not explain why their lines are breaking down when the biggest consumers are offline during this quarantine,” said Arances.