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Meralco considers extending ban on disconnection, puts notices on hold

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MANILA Electric Co. (Meralco) is discussing if it will extend the moratorium in serving disconnection notices to customers who still cannot settle any portion of their unpaid bills, especially before the quarantine period.

In a press briefing on Monday, the Philippines’ biggest distribution utility said it would not issue any disconnection order until end-August.

“We will not issue any order or disconnection [notice] until the end of August. Walang galawan munayan, (There will be no disconnection activities yet)” said Lawrence S. Fernandez, Meralco head of utility economics.

But Joe R. Zaldarriaga, the company’s spokesperson, said: “Maaari pang magbagoyan.” (It still might change.)

The distribution utility has refrained itself from conducting disconnection activities as consumers are still grappling with the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on their livelihoods.

It was further stated that Meralco has yet to determine who among customers are slated for disconnection.

Agnes R. Macob, Meralco head of commercial operations, said the company was deliberating the parameters which will be the basis for disconnecting a customer from the distribution line.

“But we are assuring you that Meralco will be very, very considerate during this pandemic period,” she added.

“Disconnection is farthest from the mission that we have right now which is to provide 24/7 electricity service,” Mr. Zaldarriaga said.

Ms. Macob appealed to customers who have not yet paid their bills prior to the strict lockdown period in mid-March to settle those accounts around this time that disconnection activities are still suspended.

Meralco is still finishing its actual meter readings, complying with the order of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) after its previous estimated computation of customers’ bills during the quarantine months has elicited complaints.

It reiterated that the present June bills reflect the accrued consumption of customers from March to June based on actual readings.

Customers who have yet to pay their bills in the past three months from June were advised that they can settle those in portions in the next four or six months, as per the ERC directive.

They will then receive two bills each month: one for the installment payment and the other for the monthly bill.

Still pressed with complaints, Mr. Zaldarriaga said: “Sa sitwasyon ngayon, ang ginagawa namin ay hina-handle namin isa-isa lahat ng mga customers’ concerns sa kanilang individual electricity bills.” (Right now, we are resolving customers’ concerns on their individual electricity bills one-by-one.)

“We vow to continue engaging our customers one-on-one,” he added.

As of present, the listed utility collected below half of all full payments of its 6.9 million customers. Despite the low collection efficiency, Meralco is paying its suppliers in full, according to Mr. Fernandez.

Meanwhile, Meralco said it has yet to submit its response to the ERC ‘s show-cause order after it was found to have allegedly violated some of regulator’s advisories during the lockdown period.

Specifically, the regulator pointed out the alleged breach on its order on estimated billing, the implementation of the former staggered payment scheme, and the start of bills payments on May 30 for customers in areas under strict lockdown.

“We believe that we have complied with the existing regulations and directives set by the regulator and we will explain in full to the Commission the basis for our actions and compliance,” Jose Ronald V. Valles, Meralco’s first vice-president and head of regulatory management, earlier said.

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 interest in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls. — Adam J. Ang





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