MANILA - The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) will release another memo to defer payments of electricity bills in areas under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) as workers in these places have yet to be "gainfully employed," the agency's chair said Thursday.
The new memo will allow households consuming up to 200 kilowatt hours monthly to settle their bills through installment packages for up to 4 months after the MECQ in their area has been lifted, ERC chair Agnes Devanadera told the Senate Committee on Trade, Commerce and Entrepreneurship in a hybrid hearing.
The announcement came just as consumers, especially in Metro Manila, received paper bills for the first time after two months on lockdown, most experiencing "bill shock" over the sudden rise in their dues.
"When we compare the ECQ and MECQ actually have very little difference. Under both situations there [is] no access to public transportation so in the mind of the commission, the daily wage earners, the informal sector are still not able to be gainfully employed," she said.
"We are requesting our distribution utilities to relax the guaranteed minimum billing demand. As we know there are no businesses open," she said.
Metro Manila, Laguna province and several parts of Central Luzon are under a modified enhanced community quarantine until at least the end of May. The cities of Cebu and Mandaue remain under EQC, while the rest of the country are under general quarantine.
Under the modified lockdown, several businesses have been allowed to reopen on a limited capacity, but public transportation remains suspended.
On Tuesday, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, chair of the Senate Committee on Energy, noted "numerous complaints" from consumers on exorbitant electricity bills from Meralco.
"Many of us are left wondering how Meralco has come up with such high charges especially during this time of the pandemic when many of us are facing mounting expenses and loss of livelihood," he said in a statement.
"The problem lies with Meralco’s confusing electricity bill. Meralco has failed to provide Filipinos a clearer and justified explanation on why bills have gone up so high," he said.
He said his office has "started initial inquiries on whether or not Meralco has taken advantage of the current pandemic situation to the detriment of the Filipino consumers."
"I would like to remind Meralco of its obligation to follow the ERC advisories dated April 15, 2020 and May 5, 2020, on the proper computation of electricity bills and correct payment dates of bills due within the ECQ period, which should start after the ECQ and should be in 4 monthly installments," he said.
The ERC has vowed to investigate reports of the bill spike.
The Joint Congressional Energy Commission (JCEC) is set to hold a hearing on Friday on the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the power sector.
The Senate, meanwhile, is deliberating on the passage of a bill that would allow Filipinos to revert to an "installment payment scheme" for utility bills during calamities.
The bill is still at the committee level as senators continue to iron out details such as the length of payment moratoriums and how utility businesses can be protected from bankruptcy should the measure be passed into law.