PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte expressed his support for a plan floated by the Department of Energy (DoE) to extend the “no-disconnection policy” for poor electricity consumers by two more months, a Cabinet official said.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles added in an online briefing Thursday that the President backs the extension of so-called “lifeline rates” — basically a subsidy for poor households — until 2051, as contemplated by Congress, which is currently preparing lifeline rate legislation.

“In the cabinet meeting yesterday, the DoE recommended to the President that this ‘no disconnection policy for lifeliners’ be continued… And the president readily agreed given that electricity is a basic necessity our countrymen cannot live without…. Hindi po kayo mapuputulan ng kuryente (Power connections won’t be cut),” Mr. Nograles said.

Ngayon po ang hinihingi ng ating pangulo sa kongreso ay muli i-extend po ang lifeliners’ benefits from 2021 to 2051. Meron pong mga pending legislation ngayon na nasa House of Representatives at sa Senado at alam naman po natin na itong benefits na ‘to ay mag-e-expire in mid-2021. Kaya kami po ay nakikiusap sa Kongreso na pabilisin na po ang pagpasa ang panukalang batas na ma-extend po ito from 2021 to 2051 (Our president is asking Congress to extend once more lifeliners’ benefits up to 2051. There is pending legislation in the House of Representatives and Senate, and we know that these benefits will expire in the middle of 2021. We are asking Congress to expedite the passage of the law extending these benefits until 2051),” he added.

Two weeks earlier, a measure which sought to extend the lifeline power rate subsidy to low-income consumers was approved by the Senate on third and final reading.

In a statement Thursday, the DoE said Mr. Duterte also backed other measures to assist lifeline consumers, such as an energy efficiency and conservation program, quick restoration of power services, and tapping foreign assistance funds such as the Green Energy Fund and Energy Transition Fund.

“All recommendations brought forth by the Department were approved by the President,” the DoE said in a statement.

Manila Electric Co. Vice-President and Head of Corporate Communications Joe R. Zaldarriaga said Thursday that the utility will “comply with the government’s directive and will wait for the specific guidelines from the DoE.”

“We would like to assure our customers that we will continue to assist all of them in addressing their billing issues,” he said in a statement issued via Viber.

Last month, Meralco said that it has started serving disconnection notices to users who were falling behind on their payments. Mr. Zaldarriaga said the company will be asking households consuming 201 kilowatt-hours (kWh) or more to settle their arrears in January, while giving those consuming 200 kWh and below until the end of the month to pay.

Meralco’s no-disconnection policy on typical households that consume less than 200 kWh was due to end on Dec. 31, but was extended until the end of January.

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 an interest in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls. — Angelica Y. Yang