A CONSUMER group on Wednesday asked the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to ask Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) to return to customers their payments for May bills, as well as to halt its billings during the period of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

In a letter, the National Association of Electricity Consumers for Reforms, Inc. (Nasecore) said the listed distribution utility did not comply with the ERC advisory on postponing its electricity billings until after May 30, amortized in four installments in the next four billing months after the ECQ.

“Undoubtedly, Meralco customers who paid their May billings online and at payment centers while the ECQ is still in effect were deprived of the benefits they were entitled to under the ERC Advisories,” it said.

In a message to BusinessWorld on Tuesday, Meralco Vice President and Utility Economics Head Lawrence S. Fernandez said the company “strictly complied with ERC Advisories and relevant regulations.”

Last week, the Philippines’ largest distribution utility explained that the bill shock experienced by customers was due to the increase in electricity charges computed based on the actual electricity consumption in kilowatt-hours (kWh) from the current meter reading, plus the estimated consumption reflected in the deferred April and March bills.

The ERC on Monday ordered Meralco to explain the basis of its computation of the May billing.

Meanwhile, the group also accused Meralco of “abuse of market power” by supposedly imposing a P47-convenience fee for online bills payments.

The fee, it said, “should have been a subject of an application with the Commission and of a public hearing.”

Responding to this, Meralco Senior Vice President and Legal Head William S. Pamintuan said on Tuesday that the additional fees are not theirs but are “the fees charged by online payment services provider to those using their platform or system to transact online payments for their convenience.”

The Department of Energy in a letter dated May 14 asked the utility to submit its explanation on this matter. — Adam J. Ang