Senate tackles bill seeking to extend lifeline rate in electric bills

Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 01 2020 09:48 AM | Updated as of Sep 01 2020 12:52 PM

Senate tackles bill seeking to extend lifeline rate in electric bills 1
Electrical meters with countless electrical wires hanging near residences in Barangay Addition Hills, Mandaluyong City on February 19, 2019. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA - The Senate Committees on Energy and Public Services on Tuesday tackled a measure seeking to extend the lifeline subsidy in electric rates for the marginalized. 

The lifeline rate is “the subsidized rate given to low income captive market end-users that cannot afford to pay at full cost,” the Senate Bill 1583, introduced by Energy Committee chair Sherwin Gatchalian, reads. 

It will expire on 2021. Gatchalian is pushing for another 20-year extension.

The 2-page measure “has a wide and vast repercussion to customers” with some 5.5 million lifeline rate consumers of 31 percent of the connection in the entire country, Gatchalian said. 

Last year, 2,410,974 households availed of the lifeline rate from Meralco resulting in some P3.8 billion in savings or P1,576 annual savings for each of these households, he said.

“The lifeline rate subsidy is being consumed by the poorest and marginalized end users. It’s geared towards helping our poor customers, he said. 

Senators Imee Marcos and Risa Hontiveros, in their opening speeches, expressed their support for the measure.

“Hindi dapat sinasamantala at pinagkakakitaan ang maliliit na konsumer na ngayon ay dapang dapa na dahil sa pandemya,” Hontiveros said.

However, both lawmakers said they recommended the review of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (EPIRA), which has been operational for 20 years. 

The embattled Manila Electric Co has been the center of investigations by the Energy Regulatory Commission due to its alleged violations of billing advisories covering the quarantine period. 

Consumers complained of “bill shock” and confusion due to the averaging scheme it implemented in place of actual meter reading during the lockdown. 

A fine of P19 million was imposed on the utility distributor for not clearly identifying which bills were estimated and for not implementing the mandated staggered bill payments on time.