By Ernie Reyes
MANILA — Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday urged power distributor giant Manila Electric Company (MERALCO) to extend its installment-based payment scheme for consumers, warning that stricter payment policies might lead to a “disconnected nation” that will make life harder for poor families and derail efforts to revive the economy.
“Hindi maganda na ngayong 2021, maliban sa COVID-19 ay magkaroon din ng epidemiya ng tanggalan ng kuryente sa ating bansa. Mas mahihirapan umahon ang bansa mula sa pandemya at sa bagsak na ekonomiya kung mas maraming Pilipino ang mapuputulan ng kuryente sa kanilang mga kabahayan dahil sa mga polisiya ng Meralco,” she said.
The senator made the call as MERALCO announced that it has begun sending out notices of disconnection to consumers using 201 kilowatt-hours and more who are behind in their monthly payments. The power giant also said that it will be hiking power rates up to P8.7497 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) this year, which means that an average household consuming 200 kWh per month will be charged around an additional ₱55 in their bill.
The disconnection policy combined with new rate adjustment in the generation charge, according to Hontiveros, is on top of the already high regular monthly electricity bills consumers must pay.
“Itong anunsyo ng MERALCO ay mistulang one-two-three punch sa ating mga kawawang consumer, na marami ngayon ay knock-out na sa mga utang, mahal na bilihin at kakulangan ng hanapbuhay dahil sa pandemya. Mas malaki na ang singil ng kuryente, andiyan pa ang panganib na matanggalan ng kuryente kapag hindi nakabayad ng buo. Baka maulit o mas malala ito sa “bill shock” last year na inalmahan ng ating mga kababayan noong 2020,” she said.
Hontiveros then called on MERALCO to work with the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and explore the possibility of extending its debt restructuring program, which offers flexible or staggered payment options for consumers who are having difficulties paying their monthly power bills so that they could avoid disconnection. In 2020, Hontiveros noted, MERALCO, complying with directives from the ERC, implemented such a six-month installment scheme for households consuming 200 kWh and below, and a four-month installment scheme plan for households consuming 201 kWh and above.
“Meralco’s earnings in the past decade have reach P10B annually, and remained profitable even amid pandemic with P21B total profit in 2020. Siguro naman, hindi hamak na may kapasidad ang MERALCO, ang mga power suppliers at kanilang mga bangko na i-manage ang problema sa utang kumpara sa pinapasan ng mga consumers ngayon. Accommodating this installment-based payment scheme will also ensure that more Filipinos will not get disconnected and will remain as MERALCO’s customers, which will be beneficial in the long run,” she said.
Hontiveros said that she hopes MERALCO will stick to its corporate motto of “May liwanag ang buhay,” and work with the government towards programs that will prevent the denial of power services to many Filipinos who are struggling amid the pandemic.
“Electricity is an essential need lalo na ngayong may pandemya. Hindi siguro kalabisan na humiling pa ng makatwirang palugit. Bago ang lahat, kapakanan muna ng ating mga kababayan ang pangunahin na mas dapat inuuna, bago ang kita,” she concluded.
In 2020, Hontiveros, as part of the Senate investigation into the “bill shocks” or the overly-high bills made to power consumers, had successfully secured the commitment of the MERALCO and the ERC to address power consumer’s concerns amid the pandemic, which led to the extension of ‘no disconnection policy’ for consumers from 2020 to January 2021. (AI/MTVN)