Meralco president and chief executive officer Ray Espinosa told the Senate committee on energy that the country’s largest distribution utility is doing its best to ease the woes of its customers, who have complained about confusing or high billing during the quarantine period.
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Meralco apologizes for bill shock
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - July 7, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) has apologized for the so-called “bill shock” as it assured customers that the P47 convenience fee for online payments will be waived, aside from a swift refund for any overcharging.

Meralco president and chief executive officer Ray Espinosa told the Senate committee on energy that the country’s largest distribution utility (DU) is doing its best to ease the woes of its customers, who have complained about confusing or high billing during the quarantine period.

“Let me apologize for the continuing inconvenience to consumers brought about by the concerns on billing matters. We will double and triple our efforts to address them,” Espinosa told Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, who chairs the committee, during its hearing via video conference. “We would like to assure all that all our efforts are poured into this direction.”

Espinosa said Meralco is deploying more people to its business centers and call centers to respond to all customer issues.

He also said that the power company has waived the P47 convenience fee for customers who pay their bills through its app while the general community quarantine (GCQ) is still in effect. “So until the GCQ is terminated or moved to the new normal, we will spare the consumer of the cost of the convenience fee. It will be absorbed by us.”

The company, he added, has been complying with the directive of the Energy Regulatory Commission on the installment payment scheme—four months for those consuming 200 kilowatt-hours and higher, and six months for those using 200 kwh or lower.

For those who have already paid their bills in cash or credit card for their bills for March, April and May—which were based on estimates—but wish to pay these, instead, by installment, they may get a refund and will thereafter receive a detailed letter that they are to be billed in installments.

Espinosa said Meralco has designated dedicated lanes for refunds in all their business offices to speed up the transaction.

But Gatchalian said Meralco must do better and fast especially that people are finding it difficult to go around with the quarantine still in effect even as he warned that crowded business centers may lead to the spread of the virus.

The senator showed to Meralco executives his apparently unusually large bill of P23,000 from March to May for his condominium unit where he hardly stayed in April and May.

He and Sen. Francis Tolentino hit the lack of details on the billings of consumers, who they said are willing to pay as long as the system was transparent.

“We cannot just blindly trust Meralco. It was proven now that the bill is confusing because of the estimate,” Gatchalian said. “I am just one consumer but we are also talking about 6.5 million Meralco consumers. You really need to sit down and validate one by one.”

Espinosa said Meralco has started issuing separate letters or billings to its customers to explain the computation in detail even as he admitted that the DU’s billing system was outdated and gave the firm “little elbow room” to put in explanations.

Sen. Christopher Go said his office was deluged by complaints even as he urged the ERC to look into it.

He said Meralco also came up with a series of advisories and materials aimed at informing the public as to why their electricity bills were reflected that way.

“We ask the consuming public, are you satisfied with these explanations? Does this address claims of some consumers that their bills doubled, or even tripled for the months of May or June?” Go said.

“Mr. Chair, while we appreciate the efforts of electric companies by reaching out to their customers, and giving them information on the nuances as to why this happened, I share the same sentiments with our committee chair and the public that more efforts have to be done to address these concerns,” he said.

“Now, more than ever, 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,” Go added.

He also called on other DUs, like those in Olongapo City, Camiguin, Zamboanga, where there have been reports of a significant rise in customer 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.” Danessa Rivera, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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