The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has imposed a P19-million fine on Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) for violating the regulatory agency’s advisories issued during the community quarantine between March and July 2020.
The ERC said Meralco failed to clearly indicate in its customers’ bills that the readings during the early part of the quarantine were estimated.
The ERC also said Meralco also failed to immediately comply with the mandated instalment payment arrangement.
“Meralco’s neglect to provide accurate and timely information especially during this time of pandemic has created chaos and confusion to most of the electricity consuming public. The Commission issued the relevant advisories with the intention of alleviating the financial burden of the electricity consumers who were mostly adversely affected by the community quarantine measures implemented by the government. This serious neglect by Meralco resulted to a multitude of complaints filed by its consumers to this Commission,” said Agnes Devanadera, ERC chairperson and chief executive officer.
Devanadera said the basic penalty on Meralco was P100,000 multiplied by the number of infractions committed by the company and resulted to a total administrative fine of P19 million.
The computation considered the number of advisories that were violated and the number of days that lapsed before serious efforts were undertaken to comply with the ERC directives.
Apart from the fine, Meralco was also ordered to waive some P200 million worth distribution, supply and metering charges (DSM) of lifeline consumers whose monthly energy consumption does not exceed 100 kilowatt hours.
The waiver is good for only a month’s worth of bill as a relief to lifeline customers.
As DSM charges are the only part of the electric bill that goes to Meralco, the only charges that it will charge around 2.77 million lifeline customers in the next billing will be generation charge and taxes, among others.
However, ERC clarified the discount shall not be charged to non-lifeline consumers.
“We urge distribution utilities to take our advisories very seriously. Our advisories were issued to aid the electricity consumers in light of the ongoing pandemic. It was supposed to provide a respite from the various financial woes of the consumers. In real time response to the changes brought forth by the pandemic, the Commission hereby intervenes and provides relief to the most affected consumers in the form of discount to the applicable retail rate,” Devanadera further stated.
Meralco head of regulatory management, Jose Ronald Valles, said that they will study ERC’s order and “will file the appropriate pleading after consultation with lawyers.”
But at a House hearing this week, Meralco president and chief executive officer Ray
Espinosa said that upon the suggestion of House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, the compaby will grant its 2.77-million lifeline customers a discount in the distribution charges.
Espinosa also said Meralco will not be issuing disconnection notices until Oct. 31, 2020 to give its customers more time to settle their electric bills.