Meralco CEO says sorry for bill shock, cites 'failure' to 'clarify' COVID-19 lockdown billing

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 06 2020 03:18 PM

A lineman from an electric company takes a rest after working on electricity meters in Manila on May 13, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA - The Manila Electric Co (Meralco) on Monday apologized to the public for the "continuing inconvenience" over the confusing electricity bills covering months during the enhanced community quarantine.

There was a "failure to clarify" to customers which part of the bill was based on actual meter reading and which part was based on an estimate, Meralco President and Chief Executive Officer Ray Espinosa told the Senate Committee on Energy.

"I believe there has been basically a failure on our part to clarify to our customers what is actual and what is estimated. For that I wish to apologize to you and to all similarly situated customers," he said.

"I believe it is necessary now for Meralco to send each of our customers a separate clarificatory letter to show the reading in February, in May or in June and explain to them clearly," he said.

Meralco earlier said that the bills for March and April had to be based on estimates as actual meter readings were not allowed during the enhanced community quarantine.

But the Energy Regulatory Commission said it received thousands of complaints from consumers who were shocked over how their bills shot up after the ECQ.

Even Senate Committee on Energy Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian and Sen. Francis Tolentino flagged the post-ECQ electricity bills, saying they could not understand why they were being charged for thousands of pesos for properties they barely visited during the lockdown.

"The utilities are also imbued with public service and public trust kasi kung ano 'yung binibigay ninyo sa amin, binabayaran namin (because whatever you give us, we pay)," Gatchalian said.

"We cannot just blindly trust Meralco. It was proven now na magulo talaga 'yung bill (that the bill is hard to understand) because of the estimate," he said.

"I am just one consumer but we are also talking about 6.5 million Meralco consumers. You really need to sit down and validate one by one," the senator told the Meralco chief.

Meralco will correct the statements and issue clarificatory notices to consumers, Espinosa said.

"Let me apologize for the continuing inconvenience regarding this billing matter," the Meralco chief said.

"It is not Meralco's business to charge customers beyond what they consumed. We have to stress that again and we have to make sure that in the implementation that is followed," he said.

"These are necessary for us to regain the trust of our customers," he said.

Espinosa said the corrections in electricity bills are expected to be done in 30 days.

"We will double and triple our efforts to actually hire more call center agents to respond to emails and other issues raised on our various social media channels," he said.

Agents in third party payment centers will also be trained how to answer frequently asked questions about the recent Meralco bills, he said.

Gatchalian thanked the Meralco president for his apology, and urged the utility firm to implement the changes as soon as possible.

"Your apology goes a long way but we expect corrections for the benefit of our consumers... para ma-reduce 'yung kanilang stress at anxiety dahil nawalan ka na nga ng trabaho, nagkukumahog ka pa magbayad ng bills (to reduce their stress and anxiety because you already lost your job and you still have to struggle to pay for your bills)," he said.

Last month, Meralco said it would issue new bills to counter the bill shock that left consumers complaining against the capital region's lone power distributor.