Meralco ordered to use unclaimed tax refund to lower distribution rates

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THE Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has directed Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) to submit a scheme that uses customers’ unclaimed tax refund to reduce the power distribution rates, the agency said on Tuesday.

In a statement, ERC Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer Agnes VST Devanadera said it is incumbent on Meralco to inform its customers “immediately” upon the receipt of the ERC order to claim their refund. She was referring to an order released by the agency on Feb. 4, 2019.

ERC also authorized Meralco to continue with the implementation of the Supreme Court’s directive on income tax refund to eligible customers under Phase 1 to 4 until June 30, 2019.

Meralco was directed to submit within 10 days from receipt of the order an updated report on the gross and net amount of refund as of Dec. 31, 2018.

“We are now in a new regulatory regime where consumer benefit is given primal consideration. This new ERC Commission will see to it that consumers do not only get billed with just and reasonable rates but we will also ensure that they get the best value for their hard-earned money,” Ms. Devanadera said.

Aside from the refund, ERC also directed Meralco to deposit in a separate interest-bearing bank account the unclaimed amounts of the income tax refund, for transparency and easy monitoring purposes.

Meralco was also required to submit the detailed list of customers who have not yet claimed their refund within 30 days from receipt of the ERC order.

The distribution utility, which is the country’s biggest with around 6.5 million customers, was also instructed to post in all its business offices the notice and the list of names of customers who have not claimed the tax refund for their information and reference.

Ms. Devanadera said the commissioners urged distribution utilities to devise ways and means that would reduce their electricity rates with the advent of the passage of the “Murang Kuryente” legislation.

On Feb. 4, the two chambers of Congress approved on third and final reading the “Murang Kuryente” bill proposing to use the government share of the Malampaya fund as subsidy to settle obligations of the National Power Corp.

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 majority stake in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls. — Victor V. Saulon