Thu. Jul 29th, 2021

As the community quarantine shifts to a slightly relaxed mode, the social media has suddenly been flooded with funny bill-related memes – from Judith (ng bill) and Jona (ang payment) to ways on how to avoid payments by locking down the community for bills collectors, etc.

However, netizens got the shock of their lives when someone posted an electric bill running to almost two million pesos – P1,773,511.50 to be exact. Suddenly, a posting frenzy on electric bills in the social media erupted as consumers started posting their electric bills, complaining how they spiked during the quarantine period.

The outpouring of complaints in the social media prompted Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta Party-list and House Committee on Energy Vice-Chair Rep. Jericho Nograles to ask Manila Electric Company or Meralco to provide the House Committee on Energy a detailed explanation on the unusual spike in the electric bills of their consumers, many of them complaining that their bill has tripled during the duration of the Enhanced Community Quarantine.

Nograles said that although it is expected that electric consumption would definitely increase because more people are using gadgets and appliances while on home quarantine, he finds it ridiculous that power cost would even triple, as what has been complained mostly by Meralco subscribers.

He said that Meralco needs to properly explain in detail what prompted the spike as he noted that power cost should even go down at this point because of the continued decrease of oil prices in the world market.

However, it seemed the complaints have been played to exaggeration. 

First, the P1.773 million electric bill turned out to be a hoax.

The post by netizen Joven Salarda alleged that the bill was for a five-storey home and included a photo of the Meralco bill when upon verification, the bill was actually for an account owned by SM Development Corporation – a corporate account that has 1,364 services assigned to it. 

It was that particular social media post by Salarda, which racked up almost 20,000 shares and solicited malicious attacks toward the company, that reportedly triggered other electric bill-related posts, all of them complaining of the spike in their power bills.

Salarda reported conflicting updates to his original post, all of which were then eventually taken down. 

Unfortunately for Salarda (or the person behind that account name), his posting is now being treated like all other fake news and cases for violations of Unlawful Use of Means of Publication and Unlawful Utterances under Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code as Amended in relation to Sec 4(4) (Online Libel) and Section 6 of Republic Act No. 10175 or the Anti-Cybercrime Law. Meralco bared they will file parallel complaints with NBI’s Cybercrime Division and PNP’s Anti-Cybercrime Unit.

With regard to the complaints against a sudden spike in electric bills, Meralco Spokesperson Joe Zaldarriaga said that while consumers may be shocked on seeing the cost of their consumption during the quarantine period, he clarified that “as part of the ECQ period, some March and all April bills were estimated based on the past three months’ average daily consumption, following the Distribution Services and Open Access Rules issued by the ERC.”

According to Zaldarriaga, “the three months that were used as basis — December 2019, January 2020 and February 2020 — were considered ‘low consumption’ months as these were significantly cooler months compared to the summer months of March, April, and May.”

He furthers that “aside from these, the following factors may have affected customers’ May bill, including increased consumption during ECQ, as everyone is at home. So, appliances are usually switched on most of the time throughout the day, especially appliances like fans and airconditioners. Airconditioners, which most households would use six to eight hours per day before ECQ, could be used for 12 to 24 hours per day during the ECQ. Also, temperatures are currently at a record high, leading to higher use of cooling devices.

The May bill, Zaldarriaga notes, is a result of the actual kWh consumption from the current meter reading, with adjustments already reflected from the previous estimated consumption. This total, which is already based on the true and actual readings, is what customers actually see in the May bill. 

That is why he says the consumer may notice a rise in the total amount due. Meralco reassures customers however that its meter-reading activities continue to be accurate and transparent. 

And of course, it is important to note that the cost reflected on the bill, covers unpaid bills with due date from March 1 to May 15, 2020 (bill date from Feb 21 to May 6), which the Meralco spokesman says will be converted to four equal monthly installments. 

There is actually a way to determine whether the meter reading is being fixed. In every Meralco bill, there is a graph which indicates our average monthly consumption.  We can just check on our average consumption for the months of March to May as against the reading reflected on our current bill, then determine for ourselves on the possible changes in our electric consumption such as airconditioner usage, television, etc.

In my case, I have been practically working from home for the past two years that I don’t expect any unreasonable or unexplainable increase in my electric bill. But as our community is still in a lockdown, the Meralco meter reader has yet to check on my meter. I still have no idea my reaction would be when I get hold of my electric bill.

By the way, Meralco would like to advise its customers against posting their electricity bills online, as these contain sensitive information that can be misused by cybercriminals. (iamigo/SovereignPH.com)

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