Meralco settles P19-M fine over customer 'bill shock'

Ian Nicolas Cigaral - Philstar.com
This file photo shows Meralco workers.
The STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) paid the hefty fine slapped by regulators over high power bills that shocked their customers during the lockdown period.

At the same time though, Meralco appealed a separate ruling from the Energy Regulatory Commission that ordered the country’s largest power distributor to provide a one month discount to lifeline customers consuming 100 kilowatts per hour or less.

“Please be informed that MERALCO paid the P19 million penalty,” the Pangilinan-led firm said in a disclosure to the stock exchange on Monday.

“MERALCO also filed a Motion for Partial Reconsideration with respect to the directive to provide a retail rate discount to lifeline customers,” it added.

Shares in Meralco fell 1.01% to close at P275.80 each on the first day of trading week.

The fine and the mandated discount to some Meralco consumers stemmed from an ERC probe that culminated in August finding the power distributor committing “neglect to provide accurate and timely information” about power bills from March to May. 

During those months when Luzon was in lockdown and where the bulk of Meralco customers are located, consumer complaints flooded ERC and the social media over bills that customers said, go way above their typical monthly consumption. 

The “bill shock” even exploded into a legislative hearing at the House of Representatives where the company told lawmakers that a suspension in meter readings during the 76-day enhanced community quarantine caused monthly charges to pile up. But ERC was unconvinced, saying Meralco’s alleged failure to communicate the situation “created chaos and confusion.”

Despite questioning the ERC’s order for a discount to some households, Meralco said lower charges will be enforced for lifeline consumers in next month’s billing. This decision opens up the possibility of getting rolled back in the coming months if and when ERC reverses its decision.

Regulators said the discount will give a reprieve to more than 2 million lifeline consumers of Meralco at least for a month. 

“Pending the resolution of the Motion for Partial Reconsideration, MERALCO will implement the retail rate discount in its October 2020 billing,” Meralco said.

From January to June, the power distributor’s net profit dropped 43% year-on-year to P6.8 billion, primarily due to lower power demand at the height of quarantines.





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