By Myrna M. Velasco
An extension of the waived P47 convenience fee (CF) for online payments to Manila Electric Company (Meralco) was sought, so this could come as added financial relief to consumers while most are still wading through the economic debacle spawned by the coronavirus pandemic.
Senate Committee on Energy Chairman Sherwin T. Gatchalian is opposing Meralco’s plan to resume collecting the CF from consumers opting to pay their bills via the online platform of the utility firm that is channeled through PayMaya.
The convenience fee was temporarily waived by Meralco during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in service areas covered by its franchise, but with the lockdown already eased to General Community Quarantine (GCQ) last June 1, the company indicated plans to re-institute the online payment fee.
“The P47 convenience fee is a disincentive for consumers moving online,” Gatchalian said, as he quizzed Meralco on why it has been pitching for the resumption of collecting it while many Filipinos “have just returned to work trying to recover financial losses.”
The lawmaker stressed “this should not happen,” as he emphasized the public has already been “inconvenienced enough” – given reports of job losses; incomes that had gone adrift for the past three months and other financial torments that many Filipinos had to go through because of the health crisis.
He opined that even at the GCQ phase for Metro Manila and many parts of the country now, “the threat of COVID-19 pandemic remains and that many customers may still be unable to visit business centers due to limited flow of transportation.
And given Meralco’s earlier explanation that the convenience fee has not been directly flowing into its accounts, Gatchalian is urging the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) to scrutinize the fees being charged by third-party service providers.
The aim, he said, is “we don’t want other distribution utilities to get an idea in coming up with a similar set up,” with him noting that such causes “undue stress to consumers.”
Transportation system in the country’s capital as well as in other areas is still problematic, hence, online transaction could come as a practical option for consumers.
For the accrued bills of Meralco, the mandate from the ERC would be for these to be spread over four and six months of amortized payments – depending on the level of usage of the consumers.
The regulatory body just recently issued a show cause order against the utility firm; directing it to explain in writing alleged violations on the “estimated billings” dispatched during the ECQ; as well as supposed unclear terms on the payment amortizations.