By Adam J. Ang

MANILA ELECTRIC CO. (Meralco) on Monday said it would shoulder a portion of the electricity bills paid for by its poor customers as a form of aid.

The utility giant gave in to a previous request by House Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano who asked the company to provide some sort of relief to about 2.77 million so-called lifeline consumers, or those who consume 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity and below.

Kami po ay magbibigay ng relief o ayuda sa kanila (We will provide them a relief), equivalent to a total of P101 million, mula sa aming (from our) distribution charge,” Meralco President and Chief Executive Officer Ray C. Espinosa told the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability.

The committee continues to probe the alleged high Meralco electricity charges to customers during the quarantine period.

The relief will be given to consumers with such low consumption as of February when the company last conducted its meter reading before a strict lockdown was imposed against the global coronavirus pandemic in mid-March.

Sila ay makakatanggap ng diskwento sa kanilang distribution charge (There will be a cut in their distribution charge),” Mr. Espinosa said.

Among bill components, the distribution charge, which forms 17.5% of its customers’ bills, goes directly to Meralco.

Meanwhile, the country’s biggest distribution utility is extending until end-October its self-imposed moratorium on sending out disconnection notices to customers who still cannot settle their arrears since the lockdown started.

Ie-extend ko po ang suspension ng disconnection hanggang end ng October para mas mabigyan ng panahon ang ating mga customers na makalikom ng sapat na pambayad sa kanilang mga bills (I’ll extend the suspension on disconnection until end-October to give more time for customers to pay their bills),” Mr. Espinosa said, responding to lawmakers’ request.

As of late, Meralco reported that it waived about P2.7 billion in guaranteed minimum billing demand (GMBD) charges to 87,728 business customers, most of which are small and medium enterprises.

It is still waiving as much as P272 million in said cost to around 28,500 business establishments operating at half of their capacities during a strict lockdown this month.

Also, Meralco said its customers were able to save P1.9 billion from its relaxed supply contracts. It was also able to return P64 million to customers whose meters were still not read until July from the start of the strict quarantine months.

The utility is still covering the convenience fees that its third-party provider is charging customers who are coursing their bills payments through the Meralco app. As of July, it refunded P30.4 million in said fees to 647,000 app users.

Meralco’s controlling stakeholder, Beacon Electric Asset Holdings, Inc., is partly owned by PLDT, Inc. Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has a stake in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls.