Meralco hit with P19-M fine over consumer bill shock
In response, Jose Ronald Valles, Meralco's head of regulatory management, did not indicate readiness to immediately implement the order. "We will study the Order and we will file the appropriate pleading after consultation with our lawyers."
STAR/File
Meralco hit with P19-M fine over consumer bill shock
Prinz Magtulis (Philstar.com) - August 27, 2020 - 4:58pm

MANILA, Philippines — Regulators on Thursday fined the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) with P19 million on contentious power bills during the lockdown period which legislators at the Lower House are now investigating.

“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,” Agnes Devanadera, chair of Energy Regulatory Commission, said in a statement.

“This serious neglect by Meralco resulted to (sic) a multitude of complaints filed by its consumers to this Commission,” she added.

In response, Jose Ronald Valles, Meralco's head of regulatory management, did not indicate readiness to immediately implement the order. "We will study the Order and we will file the appropriate pleading after consultation with our lawyers," he said in a statement.

Listed shares of the company slumped 3.19% to close at P267 apiece following the ERC’s decision released while the market was open.

The fine was slapped based on two reasons. First, ERC’s findings that Meralco failed to “clearly indicate” that bills from March to April this year, at the height of the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon, were merely “estimated” and do not reflect actual consumption. 

At the time, Meralco admitted in numerous instances to have used the last three months from December 2019 to charge its customers because metering activities were prohibited during the lockdown. Since the period used to evaluate consumption reflected a typically low energy consumption months, consumers suffered a bill shock when adjustments were made later to reflect charges during the dry months of quarantine.

“As information is being communicated to the consumers with the specific intention of apprising the latter on certain matters, the manner on how consumers appreciate and perceive information should have been considered,” ERC explained.

Second, regulators also found the Pangilinan-led firm, the country’s largest power distributor, non-compliant to regulators’ orders for a bill reprieve. As per ERC rules, electric bills during ECQ from March to June can be paid in four-month installments for a typical consumer of 200 kilowatt per hour. 

Bill payments were likewise deferred under the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act which only expired last June 22.

Regulators claimed to have been swamped by complaints from Meralco’s customers following the lockdown that they had to multiply the “basic penalty” of P100,000 by the number of infractions committed by Meralco. “(This) resulted to (sic) a total administrative fine of P19 million,” ERC said.

Apart from the hefty penalty, Meralco is also being ordered to provide discount rates to its lifeline consumers or those consuming 100 kWh or less for one month. Under the plan, distribution, supply and metering charges, which accounts for 22.4% of power bills, should be “set to zero” on the next billing period.

Meralco is ordered to inform ERC of its compliance 15 days from receipt of the order.

“In real time, response to the changes brought forth by the pandemic, the Commission hereby intervenes and provides relief to the most affected consumers in the form of discount to the applicable retail rate,” Devanadera said.

AS MERALCO LUZON LOCKDOWN NOVEL CORONAVIRUS
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