Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go urged his fellow senators and concerned government agencies to make sure that the laws regarding energy distribution, consumption and collection are strictly being followed by Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) and other distribution utilities. This is in view of the growing complaints regarding alleged cases of unjust electricity bills that some consumers received from power distribution utilities, such as Meralco.
During a public hearing conducted by the Senate Committee on Energy on Monday, July 6, Go said in his opening statement that any lapses made must be admitted and corrected in the shortest time possible. “Huwag natin palampasin kung may mali.”
“Siguraduhin po natin na naaayon sa batas ang patakarang sinusunod. At kung may mali, i-tama dapat nila sa lalong madaling panahon. Dapat gawan ng corrective measures o adjustments sa billing kaagad,” he added.
Go, then, stressed that “profits should not be prioritized over the welfare of the general public.”
“The government should not tolerate any unfair business practices at a time when people’s lives are at risk,” he strongly remarked.
“Unahin natin palagi ang interes at kapakanan ng ordinaryong Pilipino,” he added further.
While the efforts of electric companies in reaching out to their customers are appreciated, Go said, the Senator continues to call on Meralco and other distribution utilities to explain to consumers clearly and simply the facts behind their increased electricity rates.
“Sa mga explanation, may mga formula po, na para sa pangkaraniwang citizen ay mahirap intindihin at tanggapin. Para sa akin, sana ay mas igihan pa ninyo ang pagbibigay ng impormasyon na mas maiintindihan ng mga consumers,” Go said.
“Nakatatak na sa isipan nila ang malaking numero ng babayaran nila sa kanilang kuryente at mahirap mawala sa kanilang isipan kung bakit umabot sa ganoon ang kanilang babayaran. Dagdagan pa natin ang pagsisikap at nang mapaintindi sa ating mga kababayan ang nangyaring ‘bill shock’ na ito. Your consumers deserve nothing less than this,” he added.
During his questioning of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and Meralco, Go asked for the basis of the rate used to calculate the June billing and those bills where the three months are lumped as one. “Kasi kung mas mataas ang konsumo, mas mataas ang rate. Ipaintindi natin talaga sa publiko,” Go said.
Meralco CEO Ray Espinosa responded, saying that they issued advisories and will issue new one explaining the concerns raised. He added that the kilowatt-per-hour consumption between February last reading and the June reading were prorated based on the formula provided by the Distribution Services and Open Access Rules (DSOAR).
Go, then, asked if it is mathematically possible for the electricity bills to increase as much as they did based on the explanation provided by Meralco.
“Alam nyo po, kaya ko po ito naitanong dahil nais ko muling ipaalala sa ating distribution utilities to be extra sensitive, especially during these times, when it comes to billing issues. While we appreciate the efforts undertaken by Meralco to inform the public as to why this bill shock happened, it appears na kulang pa ang efforts dahil mainit pa rin ang issue na ito sa ating mga kababayan. There is still much room for improvement in terms of clearly and promptly informing the public,” Go said.
The Senator, then, asked Espinosa when the Meralco intends to implement the refund to consumers who have been overcharged. Espinosa said that these consumers may immediately get the refund from Meralco.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, Chair of the Senate Committee on Energy, raised the concern of consumers that it would be difficult for them to physically go to Meralco offices to fix their billing to avail of a refund given the ongoing threats of COVID-19 and the community quarantine measures currently being implemented.
“Maraming Pilipino ang naghihirap ngayon dahil sa COVID-19 outbreak sa bansa. Maraming nawalan ng trabaho, maraming nagsarang negosyo at maraming nagkakasakit. Sana naman ay huwag nating dagdagan pa ang kanilang pag-aalala at sakit sa ulo dahil hindi klaro ang mga patakaran ninyo ukol sa mga bayarin,” Go also stated in his manifestation.
The Meralco CEO, then, apologized to the consumers, saying “Let me apologize for the continuing inconvenience for our customers brought about by their concerns and issues regarding this billing matters, will double our people and efforts to actually to hire more call center agents,” said Espinosa.
With Go asking how much was overcharged, if any, by Meralco to its consumers during the ECQ period, ERC chief Agnes Devanadera responded that they have added additional personnel to address consumer complaints. However, to resolve the main issue, coordination needs to be done with distribution utilities, electric companies and other regulating agencies.
Devanadera cited that there are already around 47,000 complaints lodged with ERC against different distribution utilities and electric cooperatives.
Meanwhile, ending his statement, Go reiterated that the interest and welfare of ordinary Filipinos must be protected especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Inuulit ko, dapat pangalagaan ang interes at kapakanan ng mga ordinaryong Pilipino lalo na ngayon na hirap ang mga tao dahil sa krisis na dulot ng COVID-19,” Go said.
“[T]he ordinary Filipino citizen is at the heart of the businesses of our power distribution utilities. I am also asking our distribution utilities to go over and above what is necessary to relieve the panic and anxiety of the Filipino consumers in this time of pandemic,” he added.
The Senator also called on all distribution utilities, not just in Metro Manila, but also in other areas such as in Olongapo, Camiguin, and Zamboanga, where there have been reports of significant rise in customers’ electric bills, to do everything within their power to ease the people’s anxiety and relieve them of the burden they are facing during these trying times.
“To all distribution utilities, alam kong mahalaga sa inyo ang kumita upang magpatuloy ang inyong negosyo at pagseserbisyo. Ngunit balansehin po natin, pera lang naman ‘yan, hindi ninyo madadala sa kabilang buhay ‘yan. Let us always prioritize our people over profits. Sa karamihan ng ating mga konsumers, buhay at kinabukasan mismo ang nakasalalay dito,” he said. (Senate of the Philippines)