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Don Quixote

December 5, 2023 Tess Lapuz-Lardizabal 145 views

Tess LardizabalOFTEN, power consumers are so busy or too preoccupied with daily woes that they pay their bills without scrutinizing them.

Electricity is a supreme necessity, most definitely for city folk. Thus, to avoid disconnection, most consumers pay their power dues and simply move on to life’s other daily challenges.

The rest of the entries on consumers’ bills are at best difficult to understand.

Meralco would say they have a campaign to educate consumers about the components of their bills, but as the numbers fly, no one would really understand or have time to spend trying to understand.

Which leads us to a path of errors, whether intentional or not.

Most consumers wouldn’t complain as they feel powerless, much less authoritative because of their lack of knowledge about how the ins and outs of electric billing proceed. Those who do find themselves facing a dead end and even taunts of time being wasted. Soon the will to complain and correct mistakes would wilt with time.

But recently, people with powers as legislators took notice.

For one, Rep. Dan Fernandez (Laguna, Sta. Rosa) cried out loud—Meralco owes its customers in refunds since 2012.

You see, Fernandez has been wielding a quixotic sword at the Meralco windmill for years. There are times people take notice and action is taken. There are times his cries of protest simply waft in the air and are soon forgotten.

By Fernandez’s computation, which we trust was made with the help of experts in the power distribution field, Meralco does not owe only the money it collected in excess of what it should charge consumers.

The now gargantuan utility owes interest on those excess collections and this rightfully belonged to consumers.

How to correct this error? The now familiar way is refund.

Meralco returns the excess collection but the manner in which it is done also begs a second look. Those now exposed to the refund process of Meralco would simply welcome lower billing as Meralco was supposed to have already deducted the excess collection from current rates.

But is this right?

Fernandez and other lawmakers wondered aloud why Meralco does not return consumers’ money in cash, which could make the process clearer and easier to understand. Let the bill reflect current charges that will not burden consumers with the arduous task of looking for where the refund is on their billing, whether soft or hard copies.

But let’s look beyond the arguments of the lawmakers and dig deeper. The question arises: How is Meralco able to conduct business this way?

The answer could lie in the regulatory body that was created by law for only one purpose—protect power consumers from abuses. It’s called Energy Regulatory Commission or ERC.

For so long, electric consumers have been on the receiving end of many a power supply deal that they know little, or even nothing, of. They may not have time to complain and pursue this in the ERC, but the commission has an obligation to act motu propio in the interest of people who barely have enough left after paying their electric bills.