The Manila Electric Company (Meralco), the country’s biggest electricity distribution utility, on Wednesday apologized to the Department of Energy (DoE) for the “convenience fee” that a third-party mobile application charges its consumers for online payments of their bills.
Meralco President and Chief Executive Officer Ray C. Espinosa disclosed that the company will shoulder the P47 charged for every customer during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) — 16 March to 15 May — and refund the fees consumers have paid during this period.
The mobile application is an option for the electricity consumers in making their payments outside of the official Meralco billing areas.
“What (we) should have done was to shoulder the Convenience Fee charged by the payment gateway provider considering that the Meralco Business Offices and Bayad Center branches and partner outlets were closed during that time… I sincerely apologize for the lapse,” Espinosa said in his letter to Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi.
Espinosa said the bills paid via the Meralco App Online Payment Facility go through a payment gateway operated and maintained by PayMaya, which is linked to Visa and MasterCard networks.
PayMaya then charges the customer a “convenience fee” of P47 for every transaction.
“No part of the Convenience Fee goes to Meralco. The charging of a convenience fee by a payment gateway provider like PayMaya is a common commercial practice in the online payment service industry,” Espinosa explained.
In his letter to Meralco dated 14 May, Cusi said the agency is supportive of progress and the use of technology to make customer relationships a pleasant and efficient experience but Meralco is still required to get government clearance on this kind of innovation.
“Given the situation, the transaction fee consequently increases the electricity cost to the consumers, a clear deviation to all the government efforts to bring down the cost of utilities, especially during these difficult times,” the energy chief said.
As most business establishments remain closed due to quarantine protocols, Meralco has been encouraging customers to use online channels to settle their accounts.
Probe on bill shock on
Apart from the inconvenient “convenience fee,” Meralco is also being questioned over the alleged “bill shock” that customers encountered during the ECQ period.
The Makabayan bloc has recent filed a resolution urging the House Committee on Energy to investigate the “sudden surge” in Meralco bills even as the Inter-Agency Task Force in Managing Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) said there is enough power supply.
In House Resolution 879 filed last Monday, the bloc said there was an “excess capacity over peak demands have been registered with Luzon only using 3,341 megawatts (MW), Visayas only 858 MW and Mindanao 878 MW.”
On 11 May, the President Rodrigo Duterte reported that “major island grids exhibited excess capacity over peak demand with Luzon at 23 percent (2,683 MW), Visayas 28 percent (718 MW) and Mindanao at 30 percent (743 MW).”
Meanwhile, House Deputy Majority Leader Bernadette Herrera said Meralco may be held “criminally liable” under Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act for the “bill shock.”
As one of the authors of RA 11469 in Congress, Herrera noted that the law grants the President power to adopt temporary emergency measures to respond to the crisis brought about by the outbreak.
Meralco spokesman Joe Zaldarriaga, however, noted that the apparent spike in electricity bills was a result of the actual electricity consumption in kilowatt-hours (kWh) from the current meter readings, in addition to the estimated consumption reflected in the deferred April and March bills.
It can be recalled that Meralco rates for this month were expected to go down due to a reduction in its overall electricity rates by P0.2483 per kWh to P8.7468/kWh from April’s P8.9951/kWh. A household consuming 200 kWh is supposed to see a P50 cut in its monthly bill.