DAYS after Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) started sending disconnection notices to power users, a senator has asked the electricity distributor to extend its installment scheme for consumers who are behind their monthly payments.

In a press release on Tuesday, Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said that Meralco’s tightening of its payment policies amid the coronavirus pandemic might lead to another “bill shock” for consumers.

Mas malaki na ang singil ng kuryente, andiyan pa ang panganib na matanggalan ng kuryente kapag hindi nakabayad ng buo. Baka maulit o mas malala ito sa ‘bill shock’ last year na inalmahan ng ating mga kababayan noong 2020,” she said.

(Electricity prices are higher, and there’s the danger that customers who didn’t pay on time would lose access to power. We might be facing another bill shock, just like what the country experienced in 2020.)

She said that electricity is an essential need in the pandemic.

The lawmaker also called on Meralco to work with the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to look into extending its debt restructuring program, which offered staggered payment schemes for those who could not immediately pay their monthly bills.

“Accommodating this installment-based payment scheme will also ensure that more Filipinos will not get disconnected and will remain as (Meralco’s) customers, which will be beneficial in the long run,” she said.

Last year, Meralco complied with the ERC’s directive of putting in place a six-month installment plan for households consuming 200 kilowatt-hours (kWh) and below, and a four-month scheme for those consuming at least 201 kWh.

In a press briefing with reporters on Jan. 8, Meralco Vice-President and Head of Corporate Communications Joe R. Zaldarriaga said that the firm will be asking households consuming 201 kWh and above to settle their unpaid obligations this month.

Ngayon, ‘yung 201 (kWh) and above, we will already be effecting ‘yung tinatawag na collection of their arrears… Pero for those consuming 200 (kWh) and below, meron pa silang hanggang katapusan ng buwan,” he said.

(We will be collecting the arrears of those consuming 201 kWh and above. Those consuming 200 kWh and below still have until the end of the month to pay.)

Mr. Zaldarriaga added that Meralco had already issued disconnection notices to those who were behind in their bills payment.

“It’s been quite some time and… (there’s) no recourse on our part, but to collect, considering also that we have to consider ‘yung viability naman din ng operations natin,” he said.

On the same day, Meralco also announced that Metro Manila-based households consuming 200 kilowatt-hours are expected to pay an additional P55 this month. The distribution utility said that the January electricity rate went up to P0.2744 kWh compared with the December level, citing higher generation charges.

Meralco’s controlling stakeholder, Beacon Electric Asset Holdings, Inc., is partly owned by PLDT, Inc.

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