Now that Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces are no longer under a Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ), consumers expressed fears electricity and water providers will begin disconnecting their lines again.
However, Manila Electric Company (Meralco) has assured it will be “very considerate” and “compassionate,” as it resumed disconnection activities with the shift to the general community quarantine (GCQ) with “heightened restrictions” in the NCR-Plus bubble that started last May 15.
The power giant advised customers who are unable to pay their overdue bills in full to get in touch with them so they can arrange a lighter payment schedule. Otherwise, the standard disconnection will proceed.
“Given the heightened restrictions still being implemented during the GCQ, we continue to take into consideration the challenges our customers are facing amid these difficult times. We hope our continued consideration will ease the burden of our customers, providing additional time for them to settle their bills,” Meralco First Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Ferdinand Geluz said in a statement.
The Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System Regulatory Office (MWSS RO), meanwhile, had directed water concessionaires to extend their suspension of all water disconnection activities until the stricter COVID-19 lockdown was lifted.
MWSS RO ordered Manila Water and Maynilad Water Services not to cut services and provide 24-hour water supply in their service areas until the end of the MECQ.
The regulator also asked local government units to assist Maynilad and Manila Water as they conduct meter reading and billing activities during MECQ.
The Power for People Coalition (P4P) welcomed the Meralco announcement but called for regulators’ intervention to keep the power distributor “in check, and resume thorough investigations on complaints from consumers, which continue to emerge today.”
“Consumers cannot be forever at the mercy of Meralco, with the company deciding when they would or would not have electricity. We believe the Energy Regulatory Commission and even congress have not exhausted all means to get to the heart of the matter and actually hold Meralco and other power players accountable for their faults in triggering and prolonging the bill shock,” said Gerry Arances, convenor of P4P.
Meralco also said it will continue all crucial operations such as meter reading, following the order of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).
“Our continued operations will ensure that actual consumption for the month will be billed accordingly. But rest assured there will be strict implementation of health protocols in order to safeguard the health and safety of both customers and our personnel,” Geluz said.
Last month, Meralco extended its “no-disconnection” policy until May 14, after the government decided to extend the MECQ — the second strictest level of lockdown —in Metro Manila and nearby provinces to contain the surge of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections.
The Commission on Human Rights also lamented that thousands of households in the country continue to experience water service disconnection due to inability to pay their bills on time amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Lawyer-spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia, in a statement, underscored the obligation of the government to guarantee people’s access to water and sanitation, particularly those who are in the most vulnerable situations.
“While we are always reminded that one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of the disease is to regularly wash our hands using soap and water, not every Filipino has the privilege of accessing adequate water and proper sanitation,” she said.
“Water, a universally recognized human right, is essential for most aspects of everyday life and crucial for public health. If water services were disrupted, it could mean spikes in coronavirus outbreaks, particularly in high-density communities where social distancing is not possible,” de Guia added.
To curtail people’s access to water is a human rights violation, the spokesperson said.
“Not only are we denying them the protection against the disease, but we are also exposing them to more serious health complications,” she said.
“Considering the compounded financial hardships faced by the majority of Filipinos, we urge the government to strictly implement policies that ensure people’s continuous access to clean water while we are still in the middle of a national health crisis,” de Guia said.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (PHILRECA) urged consumers to use energy more efficiently, especially during the summer, when power demand is expected to spike.
“Due to the pandemic where all people are stuck at home, we keep on telling customers to minimize their energy usage,” PHILRECA president and party-list Rep. Presley de Jesus said.
“This is what we are trying to impart to our customers especially to those complaining that they lost their jobs, yet power bills continue to rise. [What] they do not understand is that they are mostly at home because of the lockdown,” he added.