Hontiveros eyes conversion of P19-million Meralco fine as 'rebate' for consumers

Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 01 2020 03:01 PM

MANILA - Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday asked energy regulators if it was possible to convert the P19-million fine imposed on Meralco as "rebates" in electric bills to offer financial relief to poor families. 

The question was raised during a joint Senate Committees on Energy and Public Services hearing on Senate Bill 1583, a measure seeking to extend the lifeline subsidy on electric bills for the marginalized. 

A P19-million penalty was imposed on power distributor Meralco by the Energy Regulatory Commission for the alleged violations on lockdown billing guidelines.

"The P19 million fine is well and good sa pananaw ng consumers but it doesn’t really help them now. Could this possibly be converted into a rebate or subsidy?," Hontiveros said.

Consumers complained of "bill shocks" after Meralco suspended actual meter readings during the COVID-19 lockdowns. 

During the hearing, Meralco head of utility economics Larry Fernandez said the fine was still being discussed by their legal team.

Meanwhile, ERC lawyer Chiara Blanco said that since the fine would be reverted back to the National Treasury, the disbursement of funds would be the prerogative of the government.

"Since this is a fine 'yung babayaran ni Meralco ay nirerevert din natin sa National Treasury so kung pag reallocate po nung perang 'yun ay nakasalaylay sa government natin kung paano nila i-didispense 'yun," Blanco said. 

(What Meralco would be paying will be reverted to the National Treasury, so the reallocation and how it will be dispensed will depend on the government)

The ERC earlier said Meralco's failure to clarify which bills were estimated and implement staggered payments on time caused confusion and "bill shocks" to consumers.