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Meralco blinks, delays collection of bill deposit

CUSTOMERS of the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), who received notices for additional bill deposit this month, seemed to have won a round of their battle against what they deemed as an unjust imposition made by the utility, the country’s biggest power distributor.

In a public conference at the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) on Friday, Meralco gave in to public pressure and announced that it will implement a 12-month payment scheme for those who need to pay the additional bill deposit. “We have decided to stagger the collection over a 12-month period instead of the original 30 days,” it said.

Zenaida Cruz-Ducut, ERC chairman, said they have asked Meralco to put in writing its proposal to stagger the payment for the additional bill deposit.

Ducut cited the Magna Carta for Residential Electricity Consumers being  very explicit in stating that consumers have an obligation to pay the bill deposit.

She said they have asked the Lopez-owned utility to submit by today the formal proposal, which shall be subject to confirmation on whether the proposal is consistent with relevant provisions of the Magna Carta.

Meralco said the collection period will also apply to customers who will receive notifications next month and in December.

It added that only  90,000 of its customers have been notified to pay the additional bill deposit this month and that a majority of its customers are not expected to be covered by supposed imposition.

William Pamintuan, Meralco legal head, said only customers who had received at least three disconnection notices or whose electric service had been disconnected in the past 12 months prior to their contract anniversary date received notification letters.

He added that customers who have been diligent in paying their electricity bills on or before due date were not sent the letters. “If [your electric service was] disconnected in the past, then you will get [a notification] letter. This will only affect those who don’t have a good credit standing in a way,” Pamintuan said.

Ivanna de la Peña, Meralco vice president for regulatory affairs, said they hope the staggered payment scheme will put an end to the supposed outrage of some consumers. “This is our response to their concerns. In the meantime, we will hold disconnection [of electric service of those who have] been given notices to pay for the additional bill deposit. We will issue another notice to the affected customers that Meralco will offer a 12-month installment payment beginning January next year,” she added.

De la Peña said  refund for customers with bill deposits beyond the required amount will continue.

The bill deposit is required of customers of all distribution utilities as a guarantee for payment of electric bills. Its annual update is based on provisions of the Magna Carta for Residential Electricty Consumers and the Distribution Services and Open Access Rules (DSOAR) for Residential and Non-residential Consumers, which the utility is implementing.

Joe Zaldarriaga, Meralco corporate communications manager, earlier told the BusinessMirror that 1.239 million residential customers will be required to pay the additional bill deposit and that another 1.239 million residential customers are due to receive refunds for their bill deposit. He said that 2.478 million or half of Meralco’s total residential customers will not be refunded or be asked to pay the additional bill deposit.

If a customer paid a bill deposit of P1,500 and has only paid P1,000 based on a 12-month average, according to Zaldarriaga, he could expect a refund of P500. But if a customer, based on his 12-month average, has paid more than the bill deposit, then he shall be asked to pay the difference between the bill deposit and his 12-month average bill payment.

Meralco was summoned by the ERC to appear in last Friday’s public conference to discuss the issue on the additional bill deposit.

Francis Saturnino Juan, ERC executive director and spokesman, said they want Meralco to present possible solutions in addressing bill-deposit issue. “It is the commission’s desire for Meralco to draw up a solution that will address the concerns of the consumers,” he added.

Article 28 of the Magna Carta for Residential Electricity Consumers states, “A bill deposit from all residential customers to guarantee payment of bills shall be required of new and/or additional service.”

It also states that the amount of the bill deposit shall be equivalent to the estimated billing for one month, provided that after a year and every year thereafter, when the actual average monthly bills are more or less than the initial bill deposit, such deposit shall be correspondingly increased or decreased to approximate the billing.

The Magna Carta also mandates distribution utilities to pay interest on bill deposits equivalent to the interest incorporated in the calculation of their weighted average cost of capital. Otherwise, the bill deposit shall earn an interest per annum in accordance with prevailing interest rate for savings deposits as approved by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

The Magna Carta also provides that the interest shall be credited yearly to the bills of the registered customer.

The Magna Carta also mandates, “In cases where the customer [had] previously received the refund of his bill deposit, and later defaults in the payment of his monthly bills, the customer shall be required to post another bill deposit with the distribution utility and lose his right to avail of the right refund [for] his bill deposit in the future until termination of service.”

It further provides that failure to pay the required additional bill deposit shall be a ground for disconnection of electric service.








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