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Prudent Meralco keeps lights on

Komfie Manalo

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Dominant power distributor Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) vows to keep the lights on for its customers amid the accumulation of unpaid charges during the more than two months of quarantine period due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

“For consumers who have concerns over disruption of their power services for their failure to settle their bills during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), there is nothing to worry. First and foremost, consumptions of customers during this period will not be charged immediately,” Meralco assistant vice president and spokesman Joe Zaldarriaga said during a virtual press briefing.

The Meralco official explained the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has approved a payment scheme that would ease the burden of consumers by giving them ample time to pay their bills on a staggered basis. More importantly, he said since the easing of lockdown measures in June, Meralco meter readers can update the actual electricity consumption printed in bills from March.

“This June, please expect that all of the 2.8 million customers would have their meters read and receive bills with their actual consumption,” Zaldarriaga stated.

The bill, he said should be higher than their previous bills because it includes the actual consumption during the lockdown period as the company was not allowed to read the meters of their customers as part of the ECQ measures.

Time for consideration

Meralco Head of Commercial Operations Agnes Macob said the ERC’s approved installment scheme allows customers who consume more than 200 kilowatt hours (kWh) a month to pay their bills in four equal installments, while those who used more than the limit have the option to pay in six equal monthly payments.

Macob said this means Meralco customers would receive two bills starting June. One for their existing monthly consumption and a separate bill for the quarantine period to reflect their amortized payment. Payment for the installment starts on 15 July.

The power bills in June will also contain a detailed explanation of the computation for electricity use during the four months of quarantine.

Disconnection not automatic

Meralco customers can avail of the installment option, but they can pay the accumulated bill in full if they have available funds, according to Zaldarriaga.

When pressed for a comment if customers who fail to settle their regular monthly bill or the amortized ECQ consumption will have their electricity lines cut, Zaldarriaga said “Meralco will always be considerate of the (financial conditions) of our customers because we understand where they are coming from.”

“Disconnection is not really part of what we are thinking of right now in terms of service to our customers,” he said adding that the primary concern of the power distribution firm is to ensure that the public has sufficient and steady supply of electricity to “keep the lights on.”

Informing citizens crucial

Meralco’s representative said all billing and payment processes will undergo a process and the power firm will sent notices to their customers to keep them informed on how to further address their concerns.

However, Macob explained customers may also decide to pay less than the amount stated on their installment bill. This means, if a customer who has an accumulated P10,000 electricity bill during the four-month lockdown period, the four installment payment is P2,500 per month. But that customer can choose to pay P2,000 in any of the months as long as the payment will be completed within four months.

The option is only available if they pay in Meralco Business Centers. Macob said they would look for ways for this scheme to be available in third-party service providers, like banks and other payment centers.

“Disconnection is not really part of what we are thinking of right now in terms of service to our customers,” Zaldarriaga said. “We are hoping that the installment plan will already be our way of helping them in terms of managing their payments,” he added.

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