ImageGSIS v. MERALCO controversy is in the front pages of several newspapers lately. According to a column in the Philippine Star “GSIS had declared war against the Manila Electric Company.” GSIS (Garcia) accuses MERALCO for lack of transparency. According to the newspaper article “…unless MERALCO listens, GSIS says it may be left with no choice but to go to court.”

Among the practices of MERALCO, according to the paper, is the 58 centavos per kilowatt hour being collected from customers as “system loss charge” to cover pilferage and heat losses from generation and distribution and the like. Also stated “all of us are being ask to pay for systems losses, another word for inefficiencies by MERALCO in distributing powers.” Also, MERALCO “… has already been twice reprimanded by the Supreme Court, which ordered it to refund its customers: first in April 2003 to the tune of P28 billion; and then 2006 for passing new charges to its customers without publicizing it as required by law.”

Supreme Court order has caught my attention; I e-mailed ERC inquiring if that decision is applicable to all Electric Cooperatives throughout the Philippines. ERC in its reply to my e-mail said YES, its applicable to all Electric Cooperatives.

Electric service distribution in the province is done exclusively by PENELCO, the only electric power cooperative in the province. All households in the province are captive by PENELCO, and because power distribution is not deregulated, you are either connected with PENELCO, or you are out in the dark. In practice, one has to apply, for membership, attend a seminar, pays the electric meter (article 8 Magna Carta for Residential Electricity Consumers state in part: “All consumers shall be exempt from payment in meter deposits…”) before being connected. Once a month an employee, a meter reader, reads the electric power consumed once a month, delivers the monthly billing statement and takes payment, or the consumer pays at the branch office (Orion branch office is located in the outskirt of the town proper.). Most consumers just pay their electric bills without checking the itemized charges, not knowing that the monthly generation charges are never the same. As required by law, electric utility company has to apply for adjustments before the ERC. Part of the process is the publication of the application to give the public due notice and give the public a 30-day period to air their side on any adjustment and the conduct of public hearings. As far as I know the process is not being observed by PENELCO.

How does one resolve the issues on itemized charges in the electric bill? In the case of MERALCO, there is Malacañang, GSIS, Congress, consumer advocates, TV and print media that intervenes the public interest. What about in our province, does our provincial and local government officials and consumer advocates, if there is one, has the political will to create an oversight committee and convene a public hearing to review the practices of PENELCO?

I don’t know how the paying consumers in the province feel about PENELCO’s practices with respect to the unbundled electric charges, but, as an electric consuming member, naturally, I am concern. Are we then should ask PENELCO to return to as the generation charges made during the past several years that is not approved by ERC? For last month electric consumption, I have to pay P12,000.00 for the electric that I consumed. Do we all to take for granted what PENELCO tell us to pay? May it be residential, business, industrial and government? I studied my electric bills with PENELCO, here is what I’ve found: For the month of January thru April 2008 on systems loss, I was charged 48, 80, 74 and 57 centavos per kilowatt hour, respectively, the total of P2,335.86 is what I’ve paid for the 4 months, not including vat of P182.62. With respect to generation charges, for the years 2006 and 2007, the monthly charges vary and were never the same. For an account clerk to prepare my electric bills for the month of January 2008 to April 2008. I was billed at the rate 0.1517 per kilowatt hour, 134.56, 129.55, 66.14 and 241.81 pesos respectively, a total of P572.06. I asked total gas station how much they are paying for the meter reader. Would you believe they are being charged P231.76 for reading one electric meter I don’t know how many account clerks and meter readers are there, but could you imagine 80,000+ paying members in the province have to shoulder the metering charges they are not even our employees. As a business company, isn’t this part of their overhead expenses?

The following is what comes to mind: 1) if systems loss charges is in accordance with the RA 9136, what happened to the money recovered when a person(s) was found guilty of pilferage and fined, 2) why is systems losses is being charged with VAT (as of this witting Congress is studying the repealing of VAT, 3) why the residential customers being charged P5.00 and business (TOTAL) P231.76 monthly to pay electric meter reader, 4) why are customers being charged to pay account clerks 0.1517 per kilowatt hour basis for preparing monthly electric bill statement (remember, we are not their employer, PENELCO does), 5) on electric bill we are being charged VAT on what we pay to “OTHERS”, others is being defined as “lifeline rate subsidy”, in other words, we are being charged to subsidize the poor and marginalized end-users and 6) all members are required to pay for “Missionary Electrification.” Why should members have to shoulder the cost for the electrification of all remote areas of the country, this is the responsibility of the government (NEA) and the electric power utility in the area of their coverage.

I brought this matter before the Local Sangguniang Bayan (SB) and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) several years ago, to be exact, on November 21, 2006; there was a local public hearing with PENELCO representative (now Chairperson of the Board) in attendance, but there was no follow-up and no positive resolution by the SB. The SB elevated the case to SP but never heard since, it was DOA (dead on arrival). This matter is not only for me but also in behalf of all registered consumers (80,000+) in the province. Make sure your opinion are registered in this forum discussion and present your views to your elected officials. They are in the position to come up with the resolution, otherwise, just pay your electric bills with no questions ask. GOD BLESS

By: Fel Barcarse

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