Meralco admits overestimates, underestimates in March, April bills

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Meralco admits there may have been ‘overestimates’ and ‘underestimates’ in the bill of some consumers for the months of March and April, but says adjustments have already been made in May and June. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 6) — The Manila Electric Company (Meralco) admitted on Monday that there may have been ‘overestimates’ and ‘underestimates’ in the bill of some consumers for the months of March and April.

However, Meralco was quick to add that these were already corrected and reflected in the May or June bills, after meter reading was done.

The problem is that Meralco failed to specify how much adjustments were made in the bills resulting to confusion among consumers.

At Monday's hearing of the Senate Committee on Energy, its chairman, Sen. Win Gatchalian, confronted Meralco about its ‘confusing’ electric bills.

Gatchalian presented his May bill, an accumulation of his bills from March to May. It showed his consumption amounted to P23,000, he complained.

The senator was charged P10,000 for March, P10,000 for April, and P3,000 for May.

“During March and April, I was not in this condo. I was in Valenzuela," he stressed. "And in fact, during the duration of the ECQ, which is March, April, May, I only stayed in the condo for less than 17 days. Ang nangyari, itong March and April mo, are overestimates (What happened is that these March and April are overestimates)."

Victor Genuino, Meralco vice president for customer retail services, confirmed that Gatchalian’s March and April bills were overestimated.

However, he also said that deductions from these overestimations were considered in his May bill.

This is why the senator was only charged P3,000 for May, he said.

“If you paid your March and April bill, and if there are overestimations on that, that would have been reflected on your May bill already," Genuino explained. "Since you already paid your May bill. That is already your actual consumption for the periods, March, April, May."

Genuino further explained that because of Meralco's inability to do meter reading due to the lockdown in March and April, the power company resorted to estimating bills.

For some consumers, Genuino said, their bills may have been underestimated. But for others like Gatchalian, it was overestimation.

“One is where the estimated bill is actually underestimated," he said. "That applies to households or homes where there are people staying at home, working at home."

Genuino continued: “The other case is just like the case of Sen Gatchalian, where the place is either uninhabited or not occupied for the usual length of time that the person occupies the home. In the case of Senator Gatchalian, the March and April estimated bills, I would say, would obviously be overestimated."

And since the P23,000 bill of Gatchalian already accounted for the overestimation, Genuino said there is no need to give him a refund.

Gatchalian, however, complained that his May bill did not mention that adjustments have been made.

“Nowhere in the bill that informed me that you added the estimate. Hindi clear, wala yan sa bill (It wasn't clear, it wasn't in the bill)," Gatchalian argued. "Two, if you do that, how will you know if there is an overestimation? How will you reconcile?”

In early June, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) issued a show cause order against Meralco due to alleged violations of certain directives.

Among these directives are the utilization of estimated billing, provided that the word estimate be clearly written on the consumer bill.

Meralco president Ray Espinosa apologized again to the public for the confusion over their Meralco bills.

“Let me apologize for the continuing inconvenience to customers brought about by concerns and issues regarding billing matters,” he remarked. “I believe there has been failure on our part to clarify to our customers what is actual and what is estimated."

Espinosa also committed to send clarificatory letters to all consumers within the 30 days, explaining the adjustments made on their bills.

“It is not Meralco’s business to charge our customers beyond what they’ve actually consumed… This new explanation and letters to customers are indeed necessary for us to regain the trust of our customers,” he said.

Refund for those who paid installment plan in full

Meanwhile, Meralco also said consumers who paid their bills in full but are entitled to installment plans, may refund their full payment.

The ERC earlier announced that customers who consumed less than 200 kilowatt-hours would be given 6 months to pay their total balance staring June 30, while those who consumed more than 200 kilo-watt hours would be given 4 months to pay.

Senator Risa Hontiveros said her office has received a number of complaints about this.

“Pinapabayad ng buo by June 30 ang bills nila noong lockdown," Hontiveros said. "Ano ang nangyari sa installment?... Sa dami ng problema at pagkalito sa electric bills, pahirapan pa ang magkwestiyon at magreklamo sa Meralco. Tatawag ka sa helplines, cannot be reached.”

[Translation: Meralco is asking customers during lockdown to pay their bill in full by June 30. What happened to the installment? Besides the numerous problems and confusion regarding electric bills, it is also difficult to question and complain to Meralco. You'll call their helplines, (but they) cannot be reached.]

Espinosa explained that Meralco has issued an advisory that those who paid in full may get a refund of their payment, and avail of the installment plan instead.

He added those qualified for refund, including those who paid using credit card, would receive letters itemizing the installment plan.