Regional Updates (08/05/20)

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Power utilities warned against billing woes during strict lockdown

POWER DISTRIBUTION utilities were warned against issuing bills that may spur another shock from customers in areas reverted to a strict lockdown, a senator said on Monday. In a statement, Sen. Sherwin T. Gatchalian said “consumers cannot afford another round of bill shock in their electricity bills,” which happened in May when distributors charged them based on compounded estimated and actual consumption. “(B)aka magkaproblema na naman sa computation ng darating nilang billing statement ngayong MECQ (There might be problems again in the computation of upcoming bills in areas under modified enhanced community quarantine),” said the lawmaker, who also heads the Senate energy committee. He singled out Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) for alleged overestimation and underestimation of bills between March and May. The government has again placed Metro Manila, and the surrounding provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal, and Laguna under strict quarantine from August 4 to 18 due to the continued uptick in coronavirus infections. Mr. Gatchalian made the warning given a possible suspension of meter readings in these locked-down areas.

In response, Meralco told reporters that it would not stop meter reading activities in these areas, while its business centers will remain open for various transactions. The listed company appealed to local government officials to allow its meter readers to conduct work in customers’ residences, ensuring that they will be billed based on actual consumption. “Rest assured this will be unobtrusive and the deployed meter readers will be in complete personal protective equipment, bearing in mind safety procedures,” Meralco Spokesperson Joe R. Zaldarriaga said. Mr. Gatchalian, meanwhile, expects the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to issue a new order deferring utility payments in those areas. The commission, however, has yet to discuss the matter. “No discussion yet on this,” ERC Commissioner Floresindo B. Digal 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 a stake in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls. — Adam J. Ang

Baguio City halts travel pass issuance, distribution area closed after 3 positive cases

THE BAGUIO City government has temporarily stopped the issuance of permits for essential travel starting August 5 after three city hall personnel assigned at the distribution area tested positive for coronavirus. The PFVR Gym, where the travel passes were being issued, has been closed until further notice. The city hall is also closed to the public on Aug. 5–6 “as a safety precaution,” Mayor Benjamin B. Magalong said in a post on his Facebook page. “Contact tracing is underway. Those who visited PFVR and City Hall from July 29 to present are requested to go on self-quarantine and to seek medical attention at the onset of symptoms,” he said. As of August 4, the city has 79 active cases, 62 recoveries, and three deaths.

Manila partners with Clean Air Asia, 3M for better air quality program

THE LOCAL government of Manila has teamed up with non-governmental organization Clean Air Asia and private firm 3M Philippines for a five-year program aimed at improving air quality in the highly-urbanized city of 1.8 million people. The project, under the Asia Blue Skies Program, will develop a science-based Clean Air Action Plan, 3M said in a statement. The project is planned for expansion in other cities in the capital region of Metro Manila. “Over the next five years, 3M will assist Clean Air Asia in its efforts to assess baseline air quality conditions, design capacity-building programs for air quality management, implement awareness and education campaigns, develop Clean Air Action Plans with selected city and district governments, and measure the resulting impact on air pollution levels,” the company. “As one of the densest cities in the region, the City of Manila recognizes the need to improve air quality, and we are dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of our people by eliminating the imminent risks that air pollution poses. By doing so, we are not only preserving the rich culture and strong heritage of the city, but also ensuring that it will thrive for the generations to come,” Mayor Francisco M. Domagoso is quoted in the statement. “And I’m hopeful that other cities will follow suit,” he added. Three air quality sensors were already installed in Manila earlier this year to gather baseline data.