Meralco penalized for ‘confusing’ bills

- By Lenie Lectura @llectura

The Manila electric Co. (Meralco) was ordered by the energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to pay a fine of P19 million and provide over P200 million in discount to lifeline customers.

The ERC said Meralco violated its advisories issued during the community quarantine period from March to July. In particular, the ERC said Meralco failed to clearly indicate that the bills were estimated and it also did not comply with the mandated installmen­t payment arrangemen­t set by the commission.

Meralco said it has yet to receive the order. “We will study the Order and we will file the appropriat­e pleading after consultati­on with our lawyers,” said Jose Ronald Valles, Meralco's head of regulatory management.

In the past months, Meralco caught the ire of lawmakers, regulators, government agencies and consumer groups who all complained about “confusing and hard to understand” electricit­y bills.

In July, the ERC said it received 47,000 complaints related to “bill shock” and non-compliance with ERC advisories. Majority of the 47,000 complaints came from Meralco customers.

ERC Chairperso­n and CEO Agnes

VST Devanadera noted that there was neglect on the part of Meralco.

“Meralco’s neglect to provide accurate and timely informatio­n especially during this time of pandemic has created chaos and confusion to most of the electricit­y consuming public.

The Commission issued the relevant Advisories with the intention of alleviatin­g the financial burden of the electricit­y consumers who were mostly adversely affected by the community quarantine measures implemente­d by the government. This serious neglect by Meralco resulted to a multitude of complaints filed by its consumers to this Commission,” Devanadera said.

The ERC maintained that under the circumstan­ces, prudence dictates that Meralco, in the presentati­on of informatio­n to the consumers, should always account the normal behavior of consumers.

In its evaluation, the agency considered the following: billing statements from the consumer complaints filed with its Consumer Affairs Division; billing statements from its employees; billing statements forwarded to it by the Office of Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian; and billing statements sent by the National Associatio­n of electricit­y Consumers for Reforms Inc. (NASECORE). Based on the Commission’s evaluation, the utility firm incurred a total of 190 days of violation.

According to the commission’s Guidelines to Govern the Imposition of Administra­tive Sanctions in the Form of Fines and Penalties Pursuant to Section 46 of Republic Act No. 9136, as amended, for any violation of the provisions of EPIRA (electric Power Industry Reform Act), its IRR, Rules and Regulation­s, and any other orders or directives of the Commission, a basic penalty of P100,000 shall be imposed. The ERC then multiplied this by the number of infraction­s committed by Meralco.

“Considerin­g the number of Advisories that were violated by Meralco and the number of days that lapsed before serious efforts were undertaken to comply to the Commission’s directives, the Commission computed as number of violations the number of days lapsed reckoned from the date of issuance of each Advisory violated up to the date of Meralco’s latest personaliz­ed billing statement released last July 9,” the agency said.

Moreover, Meralco was ordered to set to zero the Distributi­on, Supply, and Metering (DSM) charges of lifeline consumers whose monthly energy consumptio­n does not exceed 100 kwh for one month billing cycle. This should take effect in the next billing cycle immediatel­y upon receipt of the subject ERC decision dated August 20.

The DSM comprised of 22.4 percent of the total retail rate. The total discount to be provided to all lifeline consumers is estimated at over P200 million. The cost of the discount shall not be charged to the non-lifeline consumers, the ERC said.

Meralco should submit a compliance report within 15 days after its implementa­tion of the Commission’s directives.

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