“In the first place, it is unfair to charge consumers pass-on amounts for Meralco’s obligation to its suppliers. Secondly, averaging as a basis for billing is unreasonable and grossly and stressfully untransparent. Thirdly, Meralco cannot cite higher power generation cost because there have been no spikes in the global price of oil.”
By RITCHE T. SALGADO
MANILA — While residents of Metro Manila were relieved at the slight easing of the restrictive enhanced community quarantine which has been in effect in the region for two months, many were shocked when they received their electric bill from Meralco, unable to figure out how they could be relieved of the unexpected burden imposed by the electric company.
“I was shocked, I panicked,” said Elisa Banes, housewife, 52, of Bagong Silangan, Quezon City. “How would I be able to pay for this?” she quipped in Filipino.
Since the imposition of the ECQ, the primary source of income for the Banes family is their sari-sari store that is almost empty of stocks. Her husband used to drive a bicycle taxi (padyak), until public transport was banned.
She explained that their usual month-to-month electric bill do not go beyond P600.
“We received two bills from Meralco on May 15, they read our meter on May 12,” she said.
The first bill, she explained, is for their March to April consumption which is P1,375, while the second bill is for their April to May consumption which is P2,487, almost four times their usual bill.
In a statement, consumer network Samahan at Ugnayan ng mga Konsyumer para sa Ikauunland ng Bayan (SUKI) slammed the questionable billing of Meralco, calling it an added burden to already burdened consumers.
“Most of us have not even hurdled our way out of two months of lockdown that disrupted our work and incomes. Millions of Filipinos had – some still don’t have – work nor pay…. Meralco indifferently added to the burden and unbearable stress that consumers carry,” it said.
Meralco, however, insists that the May billing already reflects the actual electricity consumption of the consumer, stating that they have already adjusted the previous bill of their consumers which was initially estimated based on the three-month consumption average before the ECQ.
However, SUKI finds Meralco’s explanation “unacceptable.”
“In the first place, it is unfair to charge consumers pass-on amounts for Meralco’s obligation to its suppliers. Secondly, averaging as a basis for billing is unreasonable and grossly and stressfully untransparent. Thirdly, Meralco cannot cite higher power generation cost because there have been no spikes in the global price of oil,” it said.
House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate agrees. In a statement, Zarate said that higher consumption as a reason for the spike in electricity bills is questionable citing claims of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that there is “a downward trend in demand during the lockdown period.”
“Meralco rates should not increase because it has claimed “force majeure” among its supply contracts, meaning it will no longer pay its contract demand to its suppliers due to the COVID crisis,” Zarate added.
Bayan Muna Chairperson Atty. Neri Colmenares pointed out that since Meralco also owns an electric generation company, it is making profit from burdening already burdened consumers.
“In choosing its supplier, Meralco is not prohibited from looking for ways to favor its own generation company where it has a cross ownership. This way, Meralco rakes windfall profits as a generation company owner and as a distribution utility,” Colmenares said.
This, Colmenares believes, is because of the defective Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA), which, instead of helping lower the cost of electricity, is actually helping electric companies, both from production to distribution, to rake in more profit at the expense of the consumers.
“That’s why it is important that we must review the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) and file new laws repealing Epira provisions that allow cross ownership between distribution utilities and gencos at the minimum or repealing EPIRA all together,” Colmenares said.
Meanwhile, Ronald Nietes, 34, who prior to the ECQ worked for an advertising firm in Makati said that despite his loss of income because of the ECQ, he has no choice but to pay the magnified bill that Meralco is charging them. Nietes said that without work, he is not receiving any pay, so he has no income in the last two months. He is the sole breadwinner in the family.
“I believe that there really is no change in our electricity consumption despite the ECQ,” Nietes said. “But there is nothing that we could do about the situation, we just have to look for a way for us to pay our bill.”
Both Nietes and Banes were not included in the social amelioration program of the government, this despite their loss of income because of the ECQ.
“At the onset of government’s COVID-19 measures that disrupted producers’ and consumers’ activities, SUKI has called on government to mandate zero-billing in all utilities and services,” SUKI said.
“These calls are all in consideration of the more difficult situation that consumers and small producers face due to the lockdown, a worse place than before the pandemic when they have long been paying the price of privatized utilities and services in terms of soaring fees and insecure supply if at all,” it continued, while at the same time urging lawmakers “to reconsider the passage of the Public Service Act (PSA) amendments,” which aims to allow entry of private foreign ownership of public services including telecommunications and transportation.
“Current utilities and services are already expensive, being commercially-run by local oligarchs and their foreign partners. Philippine electricity in 2018 was still second highest in Asia at Php8.96 per kilowatt hour (kwh) and water services increased by up to 879% since privatization in 1997,” it said.
“More than ever, we realize the importance of government regulation and public participation in running utilities and services, and the need to reverse their profit-oriented privatized operation,” SUKI pointed out.