Customer complaints over electric bill shock surge to 50,000 — ERC

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 15) — Customer complaints over spikes in electricity bills have surged to 50,000, the Energy Regulatory Commission reported Wednesday.

During the hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability, ERC executive director Floresinda Baldo-Digal said they have already issued show cause orders on distribution utility firms who have violated certain regulations.

"We are processing around 50,000 consumer complaints, and we have tapped assistance of mother organizations of private distribution utilities [in the investigation]," she said.

Baldo-Digal added that they have issued at least three show cause orders against unnamed utilities, while nine others are under evaluation on status of their compliance on other regulations.

The Manila Electric Co. and other power utility firms have been in hot water over the past months for alleged lapses in their billing statements during the lockdown in Metro Manila and other parts of the country, when bills were mostly based on estimates instead of actual meter readings.

Meralco vice president and customer retail services head Victor Genuino noted that they performed actual meter reading for 99 percent of its customers for the month of June.

They will also continue to shoulder convenience fees for online transactions until the end of the general community quarantine period.

"Aside from the regular bills, we also issued individual installment plan bills so as not to confuse our customers," Genuino said.

Customers were previously reminded to settle their unpaid bills every 15th of the month, starting June 15. Those who paid their bills in full but are entitled to installment plans may refund their payment.

The utility firm has also agreed to reschedule until September the issuance of disconnection notices on unpaid electricity services to cushion the burden of consumers.

On the other hand, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano called out ERC for its supposed bias towards power producers.

“On ERC, I've been watching you even sa iba naming mga hearings, paki-review lang yung mga nagiging stand niyo,” said Cayetano.

[Translation: On ERC, I’ve been watching you even in our previous hearings, please review your stand.]

He added, “Kasi maraming kumpanya ang may utang sa gobyerno o kaya may mga pwedeng gawin para maibsan ang pangangailangan ng tao. Yet, parang kinakampihan ng ERC parati yung power producers at may ari ng kumpanya.”

[Translation: Because there are companies out there who have debt with the government or you could have planned out how to ease the burden of the consumers. Yet, it seemed that ERC is siding with power producers and the company owners.]

Cayetano said ERC and other agencies should be more “progressive” in interpreting laws.

“We have to interpret this in favor of the public […] Yung kuryente, public interest ito (Electricity is a public interest). Public utility ito (This is a public utility),” he said. “Public policy should be for the public.”