By Myrna M. Velasco
Power utility giant Manila Electric Company (Meralco) is targeting to issue service disconnection notices to customers with unpaid bills by September, although company executives indicated that payment deadlines may still be extended.
According to Meralco Vice President Lawrence S. Fernandez, the current directive from their management is “no disconnection notice to be issued until August 31,” but any possible extension to that is being studied.
Meralco spokesperson Joe Zaldarriaga qualified that “disconnection is farthest from the mission that we have right now, which is to have 24/7 service and to keep the lights on,” thus, disconnection of electricity service shall not be a concern that consumers should be worrying about at this point.
Currently, customers are paying two sets of billings monthly – one is on the installment payment for bills that accrued during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and modified ECQ periods falling due every 15th of the month; while the other is their dispatched bill for the current month which has the usual due date as conventionally enforced prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
Zaldarriaga noted that if a customer will not be able to pay all of the bills-for-installment in a given month, and had just settled portion of it, that customer will still not be issued with disconnection notice.
Agnes R. Macob, head of commercial operations of Meralco, further explained that “the parameters of disconnection have not been discussed yet,” so the company does not have exact inkling right now which customers will eventually be covered – since some subscribers also have payables as early as the pre-ECQ months and even latter part of last year.
“We are discussing on the parameters on those who we will be disconnected, but Meralco is very, very considerate now… so the disconnection process may eventually be moved,” she stressed.
Zaldarriaga emphasized that all customers – including the 2.8 million end-users that did not have their meter readings last month – will already receive their bills with actual meter readings – and that shall be the basis of their installment payments as warranted.
On the massive complaints lodged against the utility firm because of the summer-lockdown bill shocks, he noted that they are addressing these concerns employing “one-on-one approach” and many customers have so far understood explanations on why their electricity usage surged within the March-May duration.
Presently, Meralco executives said their collection efficiency is already inching close to 50-percent; significantly rising from a very dismal level of 3.0-percent at the height of the ECQ in April.
Zaldarriaga emphasized there are customers opting to pay in full; while the rest would still prefer the installment-payments given the rough financial situation that some customers have been going through after the lockdown.
Fernandez noted that while the company’s collections is still considerably low compared to almost 100-percent prior to the pandemic, the utility firm shoulders additional cost burden because it has been paying its suppliers and the transmission service provider in full.
Fortunately for Meralco, the utility firm indicated that despite disrupted revenue stream, there are no imminent employee lay-offs and deferments of projects are just mainly due to logistical constraints like permitting and deployment of people and not on financial strains.