Consumers troop to Meralco offices to demand no disconnections due to ‘bill shock’
Energy consumers led by the Power for People Coalition (P4P) on Wednesday trooped to different Meralco offices in Metro Manila, Rizal, and Laguna calling for an extension on the no-disconnection period for consumers affected by the bill shock.
Meralco has promised not to disconnect any household affected by the bill shock until October 31 but has not given any indication of extending the deadline or accounting for the bills it issued as demanded by consumers.
“This mobilization, in the time of pandemic, shows the desperate situation of the people all over the Meralco franchise area for the company’s callous disregard for their financial situation. This happened because Meralco always seized on the chance to bill consumers with as much as they think they can get away with, and because the government has not been proactive in curbing Meralco’s excesses,” said Gerry Arances, P4P Convenor.
The action included a caravan to solicit signatures for their #TigilBayad petition, which seeks a moratorium on payment for bills issued during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) until after demands for fair electricity rates, a more flexible payment scheme, a return of all pending refunds, reforms in Meralco billing practices, and an independent audit of the distribution utility have been met.
“Consumers do not want to be at the mercy of Meralco. Meralco sets the rates and tells us when to pay them, without any accountability whatsoever. Our petition will be presented to the government to demand that it act on its responsibility to protect the people. When you have work from home and online classes, you cannot cut electricity to homes without serious consequences for our country’s ability to recover from the pandemic,” said Atty. Aaron Pedrosa, Secretary General of Sanlakas.
The groups said that retracting the end-of-October disconnection threat is the least Meralco can do for its customers at this time.
“Repeat offender. These words best describe Meralco on how it conducts business. This bill shock is just one of the many episodes of how Meralco transgresses rights of electric consumers, which only happen because government regulators are incompetent and rendered by an electric industry that believes profit driven companies provide the service best,” said Ian Rivera, National Coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ).
This system must be stopped, said Rivera, and the role of consumers in this is paramount.
“Electric consumers can make this right if they demand a system of transparency where their rights are protected even in power supply agreements. The seven dirty and costly coal-fired power plants which Meralco is in contract with must be phased-out. A repeat offender cannot be allowed to run its business this way if consumers’ rights are upheld,” he said.
Meralco offices visited by the consumers, who followed social distancing guidelines, included the offices in Kamuning in Quezon City, San Juan Del Monte in Bulacan, and Calamba in Laguna.
“We always talk of a new normal for the aftermath of this pandemic. We hope that, in the power sector, the new normal would be prioritizing consumer welfare and right to clean and affordable electricity,” said Arances.