Following the penalties slapped against Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) for violating Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) advisories during the quarantine period, a lawmaker and various organizations have called on the body to implement a similar penalty on other erring distribution utilities (DUs).
“This should serve as a stern warning against all erring distribution utilities that might face the same consequences for not following the power regulator… Abuses amid the time of crisis and pandemic is rightful to be penalized. The penalty is a small amount compared to the confusion it caused to millions of residents who are only earning just enough to get by their daily needs,” said Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, referring to the P300- million penalties on Meralco.
Around P275 million of that represents discounts to lifeline customers in the next billing cycle. Meralco was fined P19 million by ERC.
“The ERC is setting itself up to charges of discrimination and equal protection violations if it focuses its attention solely on Meralco. We have noted that other DUs around the country had encountered similar complaints during the lockdown. By failing to include similarly situated DUs, it is ignoring a larger segment of the population that had also encountered the same concerns in their electricity bills during the pandemic,” said Terry Ridon, convenor of think-tank Infra Watch.
Ridon said customers from power utilities outside the Meralco franchise area were also complaining of their unusually high electric bills.
He said the basis of Meralco’s fines is supposedly due to violations of ERC’s enhanced community quarantine) advisories on April 15 and May 5, which require estimated customer billings to indicate the word estimate to clearly show that billing adjustments may be made at a future time. The advisories cover all power utilities in the country.
Ridon said since the P19-million fine does not benefit the public in terms of reducing their monthly electricity bills, government must work instead to reduce taxes and fees on the power sector to result in real savings to all households and businesses.
Laban Konsyumer Inc. president Vic Dimagiba proposes that the P19-million fines goes to the 50,000 consumers, pro rata, who were prejudiced and suffered anxiety as fair compensation.