By JOHN CARLO M. CAHINHINAN
Senator Risa Hontiveros has urged the government to “use the full force of the law” to put an end to abusive and “anti-consumer” billing practices of Manny V. Pangilinan’s Manila Electric Company (Meralco) amid the series of quarantine lockdowns brought by the coronavirus pandemic.
Hontiveros made the remarks as she urged the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and other other relevant agencies to investigate and study the filing of charges against the Pangilinan-led power distribution firm for its “anti-consumer billing practices” in the middle of a global health crisis.
“Ngayong panahon ng pandemya, huwag naman sana dumagdag pa ang overpriced at hindi malinaw na singil sa kuryente sa problema ng taumbayan,” said Hontiveros.
Hontiveros, during Monday’s inquiry of the House Committee on Energy, said the ERC should thoroughly investigate Meralco’s controversially high electricity bills charged to consumers, among other actions, for possible violations of government regulations in the past few months.
Hontiveros stressed that consumers” deserve justice for being made to pay exorbitant power charges at a time when so many have lost their jobs and livelihood.”
“Kung may nalabag silang ERC order, Meralco should be immediately charged and penalized for its anti-consumer practices,” she said.
The ERC has earlier stated that they are looking into allegations by consumers of “illogically high” electric bills charged by Meralco during the lockdown.
The regulatory body had already confirmed that the said power firm may have violated ERC’s prior guidelines to power firms as stated in its advisories in March, April and May.
Various consumer groups claimed Meralco’s bills reportedly failed to inform consumers about the four-month amortization option which allows people to pay their cumulative power fees in 4 equal monthly installments after the lifting of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila.
“Sadya bang ginawa ito ng MERALCO para malito ang mga tao at mag-bayad sila ng buo at walang installment, labag sa utos ng ERC?” Hontiveros stressed.
“To add insult to injury, consumers looking to complain or inquire about their bills are met with unreachable hotlines and long, crowded lines at Meralco offices which expose so many people to great health risks,” she added
For Hontiveros, Meralco’s practices “seem deliberate and in bad faith.”
“Sa gitna ng madilim na yugto ng bansa, imbis na maging liwanag ang Meralco ay lalo pang ikinulong sa dilim ang mga Pilipino. Meralco, instead of standing with us, has decided to put profitability and its corporate interests first,” she said.