MANILA — Senator Win Gatchalian has on Monday, 15 June 2020 called on the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) to give customers a break by suspending its P47 convenience fee for online transactions amid the pandemic.

Meralco initially waived the 47-peso convenience fee during the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) but the largest distribution utility in the country has recently announced that it will resume collecting the said fee from consumers who wish to pay their bills online after Metro Manila and other cities started reopening payment and business centers.

“The 47-peso convenience fee is a disincentive for consumers moving online. Why will Meralco resume collecting 47 pesos from every household when many of our ordinary kababayans have just returned to work trying to recover financial losses? This should not happen! The public has been inconvenienced enough,” stressed Gatchalian, Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee.

Meralco has earlier clarified that the fee does not go to its coffers and that payments go through a payment gateway operated and maintained by an online third-party service provider.

Because of this, Gatchalian urged the ERC and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) to look into the fees being charged by third-party service providers.

Even with the easing of community quarantine, Gatchalian pointed out that the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic remains and that many customers may still be unable to visit business centers due to limited transportation.

“Baka nakakalimutan ng Meralco na nandyan pa rin ang banta ng COVID-19 sa kalusugan ng bawat mamayan sa kabila ng pinaluwag na quarantine. Kaya nga natin sinusulong ang paggamit ng online platforms sa pagbayad ng mga bills ay upang hindi na lumabas ng bahay at makipagsapalaran sa mga bayad centers at iba pang establisyemento ang mga tao, pagkatapos ay pababayarin din pala sila ng dapat na pang serbisyo publiko na lang. Huwag nating pahintulutan ito,” the lawmaker said.

“We don’t want other distribution utilities to get an idea in coming up with a similar setup, to the detriment of power consumers. We don’t want to create undue stress to our consumers,” he added.

Meanwhile, Gatchalian expressed support to the ERC for issuing a Show Cause Order against Meralco for not complying with its advisories by not clearly stating the word “estimate” on the consumer bill and that the instalment payment should have been explained to the consumers well.

The senator has implored the ERC and the Department of Energy (DOE) last month to conduct an inquiry on matters concerning electricity bills to provide clarity and relief to customers given the financial strain caused by the ECQ. (ia/PRIB)