Meralco to start charging P47 again for online payments
MANILA, Philippines – After committing to waive the P47 convenience fee for payments made online during the coronavirus lockdown, the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) said it will charge this amount again as payment centers are already reopening.
Konsyumer, a consumer rights group, said on Wednesday, June 10, that it is thinking of "concrete steps" to hold Meralco accountable for the convenience fee.
"Meralco is the true inconvenience and it never ceases to amaze us with what it can do to consumers. Either you lose hours in queues to pay your bill, or pay through the nose for 'convenience,' even though no other utility charges the same when you pay online," said Primo Morillo, spokesperson of Konsyumer.
William Pamintuan, Meralco's head of legal and corporate governance, told lawmakers on Tuesday, June 9, that they will no longer waive the fee since payment centers are now available for consumers. (READ: [OPINION] A crossroads for Meralco)
Back in late May, Meralco had said it would refund the P47 to consumers who already paid up during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
It even apologized to consumers after drawing flak on social media and from regulators.
Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi had said Meralco's collection was "a clear deviation [from] all the government efforts to bring down the cost of utilities, especially during these difficult times."
But Meralco insisted that regulators were fully aware of the fees collected. It further explained that the fee does not go to Meralco, but to its partner company.
The amount goes to a payment facility operated by PayMaya Philippines. Both Meralco and PayMaya Philippines are businesses of tycoon Manny Pangilinan.
"There is no reason to charge these fees except greed. And we call on the Energy Regulatory Commission to immediately put a stop to the levying of these fees and to refund those who have already paid," said Morillo.
Meralco customers earlier complained of bill shocks after they received their bills for May.
This prompted the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to issue a show cause order to Meralco for allegedly violating directives related to bill advisories.
"We cannot tolerate such non-compliance and any erring party must be held accountable for their actions or misactions," said ERC Chairperson Agnes Devanadera in a statement on Wednesday.
Meralco said it did not violate any rules.
"We reiterate that Meralco has not violated any rule even if our operations were severely challenged by this pandemic," the company said.
Meralco's metering staff were unable to do actual meter reading during the ECQ, which is why the power distributor resorted to using the average consumption of users from December 2019 to February 2020.
Actual meter reading resumed in May and true consumption rates were reflected in the latest bills, according to Meralco. – Rappler.com