"We asked for it."
The other day, Bagong Henerasyon Representative Bernadette Herrera called on customers of the Manila Electric Company or Meralco to hold on payment for their electric bills until the power distribution giant has handed them a revised statement based on actual reading.
According to Herrera, this was what was agreed upon during a congressional hearing spearheaded by the House Committee on Energy, wherein Meralco committed itself to the directive of the House committee and the Energy Regulatory Commission to withhold collection for unpaid electricity consumed during the quarantine period.
Meralco itself issued a statement saying they were 65 percent done with actual meter reading.
The House hearing was actually prompted by various complaints from Meralco consumers, some of them claiming their bills had tripled.
The power industry regulator has since explained that the unusual spike in bills resulted from estimation using the three-month average consumption prior to March and April —when the enhanced community quarantine is fully in place and physical meter readings were not possible.
To correct the discrepancy, ERC chair Agnes Devanadera said, during the hearing, the last meter reading in February will be computed until May to get the actual consumptions during the ECQ periods.
As an added bonus, payments for electricity consumption during quarantine periods will be staggered in four to six monthly installments, with the first monthly amortization to be made not earlier than June 15, 2020, without penalties, interest and other fees.
After the hearing, Herrera said that those who have already paid for their bills, could be refunded by Meralco, or that the excess in payment could be deducted from their succeeding bill.
But only if indeed the earlier Meralco billing was erroneous resulting to disadvantage of their customers.
Apparently, there was confusion on the customers’ appreciation of the bill.
One close friend sent to me a screenshot of her electric bill saying it showed her household’s consumption tripling.
But a closer look at her bill would reveal she erred in reading her bill. In the upper portion of the statement, there are actually three figures representing charges for electricity consumption. One on the left representing the charges for the month of March when the quarantine commenced, one in the middle representing current charges which I would safely assume is for the month of April as these are the months in question and since the May billing is to be based on actual reading which has not yet been completed, and a figure on the right side representing the total amount due.
So, the total amount due should reflect the charges for the months of March and April, which were based on the average monthly consumption for the previous three months, December to February.
Total charges for two months consumption.
However, my friend added the amount in the middle, which was supposedly the amount due for her April consumption and the total charges stated at the right side of the bill. Of course, it would result to her electric bill tripling. Had she added the figure on the left which represented the March billing, her bill would have even quadrupled.
It was only after my explanation that she realized her mistake. And she was not the last I encountered having the same problem of a wrong appreciation on the billing. There were at least three other persons who approached me with the same problem and I had to give the same explanation to each one of them.
But not all my friends had this bill shock. In fact, some of the were even elated at the method Meralco applied, simply getting the average monthly consumption from December to February and apply them for the March and April billing.
They had to admit that the system was more advantageous to them as since they were at home for the entire duration of the quarantine amid the sweltering summer heat, they had all their cooling systems, airconditioners and electric fans all literally working 24/7.
They were expecting to be charged more but because their bills were based on cooler months, their bills were unexpectedly low.
I myself have no qualms on my electricity billing.
Browsing through other newspapers, I ran across the column of Robert Roque, Jr. of Tempo who claims his electric bill was just what he expected.
“Checking own meter reading and comparing it with the last read consumption was the next best thing to prove whether or not the bills were accurate. For my household, the figures on my meter – which was untampered and secure – and the reflected kilowatt per hour (kwh) consumption in my bill, were accurate,” Roque stated in his column.
But because of the complaints, Meralco will now conduct an actual reading of our meters and revise our bills based on the actual meter reading. We should expect a higher bill; we know within ourselves, and we have to be honest about it, this quarantine, aggravated by the agonizing summer heat, did not help us conserve energy. On the contrary, we might have even doubled our consumption.
But because we asked for it, we have to accept whatever the result is.