Corporate benevolence is key
HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - September 19, 2020 - 12:00am

Corporate benevolence has undoubtedly been a key factor in the country’s fight against the pandemic.

One article gave due recognition to big businesses like that of the Aboitizes, Ayalas, Tony Tan Caktiong’s Jollibee Foods, San Miguel Corp., the Gokongweis, the Lopezes, Razon’s Bloomberry Cultural Foundation, Sy’s SM Group, Andrew Tan’s Alliance Global Group, the Ty family’s GT Capital and Metrobank, and the Villar Group, the country’s richest, who have collectively raised over P10.64 billion in cash and kind. The number continues to increase by the day.

Also given a well-deserved recognition in the article is Manny Pangilinan’s MVP Group, which advanced tax payments to boost the government’s pandemic war chest, donated thousands of grocery packs to families of health workers and other frontliners, and allowed its telecommunications service vehicles to be used in COVID-19 responses.

The group’s power utility, the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), has also provided millions in support of various COVID-19 treatment facilities, with some health centers given subsidized or even free electricity.

Meralco has also been active in supplying medical gear such as protective personal equipment (PPEs), hazmat suits, face masks and shields, and others to medical facilities and local government units (LGUs) since the national government’s first call to action.

Essential personnel from operations and services remained on standby duty inside the Meralco grounds, ready for 24/7 dispatch – a decision that proved judicious as increased consumption during the lockdown often led to outages.

Meralco also recently energized the Solaire-PAGCOR mega quarantine facility. Designated as a priority project with 525 beds, it is the biggest quarantine center in the National Capital Region earmarked for Metro Manila, Bulacan, and Calabarzon.

Together with corporate social responsibility arm One Meralco Foundation, Meralco’s electric transport systems were offered as free conveyance to frontliners.

Continuous, reliable, and affordable electricity is important during the pandemic. Hospitals and other medical facilities use electricity. People, whether working from home or in the office, have to use electricity. We are all assured a continuing supply of basic commodities because our manufacturing plants and other factories are kept running by electricity.

According to Meralco, it has experienced five months of continued decrease in the overall rate adjustments, the lowest in three years, dating back to September 2017. In fact, Meralco said that the generation charge has decreased for six consecutive months.

In an unprecedented move, Meralco invoked the force majeure provision in its power supply agreements (PSAs). The force majeure claims totalled about P463 million, translating to a customer savings of 17.10 centavos per kilowatt hour in the generation charge. Had it not been for this approach, generation charges and total rates would have increased by 13 and 14 centavos per kWh, respectively. For the past six months, such claims gave Meralco customers savings amounting to P2.4 billion.

Meanwhile, as Meralco customers are still  averse to paying their bills online, the distribution utility has  waived the convenience fee on its online bills payment platform. The utility shouldered the cost, a fee of P47, which as of Aug. 24 has already reached P30.4 million. The other day, I tried paying online and it is still free.

Save for a few exceptions, most Meralco business centers were kept open for customers reliant on human interaction for conducting transactions. Because these centers are manned by a skeleton crew, it added ‘virtual customer assist’ facilities to provide an alternative and/or remote customer assistance via live teleconferencing with customer service agents working from home.

Then there is the matter of the controversial electricity bills during the enhanced community quarantine. For the ECQ bills, Meralco came up with flexible payment schedules of up to six months with no interest charges on the installments consistent with the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) guidelines.

Commercial and industrial accounts under fixed-cost payment contracts, guaranteed minimum billing demand (GMBD), where a set amount has to be paid whether that electricity is used or not, were just billed for actual energy consumed. This amounted to P2.69 billion in savings, providing financial relief to Meralco’s 87,728 SMEs and big business customers, Meralco officials said.

Meralco also recently announced it was delaying disconnection of services for customers with unpaid bills of at least one month until Oct. 31. This is yet another extension from the previously set Sept. 30, reflecting Meralco’s customer first commitment.

There are now around 245,000 active COVID-19 cases, with 186,000 having recovered as of this writing. Nearly 117,000 of those recoveries come from Metro Manila, Calabarzon and Central Luzon; regions of which a great majority are serviced by the Meralco franchise.

Imagine all 6.9 million Meralco customers stuck at home for many months, but still enjoying the conveniences that electricity brings.

Let us not forget how communications also runs on electricity. Videoconferencing, work from home, online classes, all these require gadgets that use electricity.

For comments, e-mail at mareyes@philstarmedia.com

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