A CONSUMER group on Tuesday asked the government to halt power disconnections resulting from the non-payment of electric bills during the height of the lockdown.
In a briefing Monday, Power for People (P4P) Coalition issued its no-disconnection stance after Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) announced that it will resume issuing disconnection notices next month.
“Stopping payments is the only feasible measure to protect consumers and assist them as they grapple with the challenges of the pandemic,” P4P Convenor Gerard C. Arances said in a statement.
Meralco said it has “always been considerate of the circumstances of its customers” after imposing its own moratorium on power disconnections between April and October. It will start evaluating customers for possible disconnection after Oct. 31.
“This is alongside the installment arrangement mandated by ERC (the Energy Regulatory Commission), to ease payments for consumers,” added Lawrence S. Fernandez, Meralco head of utility economics.
Consumers complained of “bill shock” in May after the distribution utility resumed its delivery of power bills covering the strictest period of the quarantine, during which when many consumers worked from home.
Meralco said it computed lockdown bills based on average usage in the three months before March. The ERC then ordered the resumption of physical meter reading to reflect actual consumption during the lockdown months.
Power consumers with less than 200 kilowatt-hours of monthly usage have until the end of the month to settle their quarantine arrears as prescribed by the ERC in an earlier advisory.
On Sept. 23, the Department of Energy (DoE) ordered the energy industry to continue extending grace periods and enforce a staggered payment scheme for their customers, in compliance with Republic Act No. 11494, or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan II).
The ERC has yet to come up with a similar advisory for power distributors.
It has urged energy consumers who are capable of paying their bills to settle them within original due dates “to lessen the impact and help manage the cash flow of the energy supply chain.”
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