Extension of 'no power disconnection' policy urged

Extension of 'no power disconnection' policy urged

MANILA, Philippines — The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and power distributors are being urged to extend the no disconnection policy for low-income households until the government lifts quarantine measures.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian is pushing the ERC and distribution utilities (DUs) to heed the call of the public to further extend the ‘no disconnection’ policy for low-income consumers at least until the end of the government-imposed general community quarantine (GCQ).

“It is not yet time to implement routine billing on the due date of the electricity bill especially for low-income consumers. Christmas season just ended, and many were forced to celebrate it to the best of their ability. It would be better to extend the ‘no disconnection’ policy until the end of quarantine,” Gatchalian said.

Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) earlier  said it would start sending out disconnection notices to customers consuming 201 kilowatt-hours (kwh) and above. Households with 200 kwh and below usage have until the end of the month before they are required to settle unpaid bills.

Meanwhile, the ERC said it is leaving it up to DUs and electric cooperatives (ECs) whether or not to extend their no disconnection policy.

The November 2020 nationwide survey on COVID-19 and its impact on the Filipinos conducted by Pulse Asia Research Inc. showed that 58 percent of the 2,400 surveyed either lost their job or source of income.

Hardest-hit are those belonging to the Class D and E as 58 percent and 64 percent of them, respectively, ended up having no means of livelihood.

More than half of the respondents from Mindanao or 57 percent experienced a reduction in salary or income while 53 percent of those from Class A, B and C nationwide also experienced losing a job or source of income last year.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that as of October last year, unemployed Filipinos reached 3.8 million compared to the previous year’s 2.1 million.

Amid calls for the extension of the no disconnection policy, Meralco said it is looking for a middle ground and is addressing bills issues on a case-to-case basis.

“Disconnection is farthest from our priority for now. We are bending further by trying to find a middle ground and solutions on a case-to-case basis for all our customers who have difficulty paying because of accumulated bills. We are here to provide help and assistance if needed,” Meralco vice president for corporate communications and spokesperson Joe Zaldarriaga said in a text message.

Meralco head of utility economics Lawrence Fernandez said they were also studying the suggestion to extend payment terms for their customers.

This as Meralco had already extended the grace period until end-January, which was already beyond the October 2020 advisory of the ERC to extend the disconnection moratorium for consumers using 200 kwh and below.