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Zarate wants payment of one-month electric bill of Meralco customers waived

Bayan Muna party-list Representative Carlos Zarate on Thursday proposed that the payment of the electric bills of Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) customers for one month be waived while the areas that the power distribution company serves were on lockdown.

Zarate made the proposal during the virtual hearing of the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability on the sudden spike of Meralco's electric bills during the community quarantine in the country.

"Ang aming proposal, una, para maibsan ang hirap ng ating mga kababayan, one-month condonation lang ng bills ng ating mga kababayan, sa Meralco customers, for all 6.4 million households," Zarate said.

"Pwede niya itong i-condone dahil kumita naman ito nang malaki kahit na nagkaroon ng krisis. At kahit noong wala ang krisis ay talagang malaki ang kanyang kita," he added.

According to Zarate, Meralco had generated a P5.5-billion income during the first quarter of 2019, but this even grew by the first quarter of 2020 to P5.7 billion.

"Kahit na krisis, lumaki pa ang kanyang kinita. Kaya dapat lamang talaga na itulak natin na maging responsable ang Meralco dahil limpak-limpak na ang kinita nito. Wala pa mang krisis at kahit na nagka-krisis na, kumikita pa rin siya," he said.

Apart from Meralco customers, Zarate also suggested a one-month condonation of the electric bills of customers of non-profit electric cooperatives in the provinces.

The lawmaker estimated that about 1.1 million households across the country will benefit from the one-month condonation of their electric bills.

"Kapag nag-condone sila, saan kukunin ito? Doon sa 12% VAT na ini-impose ng pamahalaan, pwedeng i-waive yun. That will be an estimated P1.2 billion at the minimum," Zarate said.

"Pangalawa, pwede rin kumuha tayo ng pangtustos dito doon sa ating national wealth na already estimated at P8.7 billion," he added.

Alternatively, Zarate said that Meralco may also choose to condone the payment for only the first 200 kWh consumed by its consumers. The case should be the same for non-profit electric cooperatives in the country, he added.

The House good government panel conducted the hearing amid the sudden spike of electric bills of Meralco customers for the month of May.

Meralco spokesperson Joe Zaldarriaga earlier explained that the latest bills reflect the full impact of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), while the previous months were based on average consumption.

The power distribution utility had suspended meter reading activities when the ECQ took effect, but a skeleton force resumed such operations on April 18 for corporate and BIZ customers, and May 6 for residential customers.

Thus, the billing was only estimated based on the average of three months' consumption. The March bill, for example, was based on the consumption in December, January, and February.

The Energy Regulatory Commission has since ordered power distributors to allow their electricity customers with monthly consumption of 200 kWh and below in February 2020 to pay their electric bills due within the ECQ and modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) periods in six equal monthly installments beginning June 15, without penalties, interest, and other fees.

For those with monthly consumption of above 200 kWh in February 2020, they may also pay their electric bills due within the ECQ or MECQ periods in four equal monthly installments starting June 15 as well.

Zarate suggested that in order to prevent the recurrence of these issues involving Meralco, a review of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act should be conducted and a new framework governing the energy sector must be created.

He also proposed to "break the monopoly" of Meralco through congressional intervention on Supreme Court cases such as the 2013 Malampaya Shutdown overcharging case and the lifting of the temporary restraining order on Retail Competition Open Access. -MDM, GMA News