Filipino consumers will be spared from electricity service interruptions or brownouts due to unpaid bills during the Christmas holidays as the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) formalized its order of “no electricity service disconnection” until December 31 this year.

christmas - ‘No disconnection’ policy to save customers from ‘Christmas brownouts’
(UNSPLASH / MANILA BULLETIN)

The regulatory body issued the edict to all distribution utilities (DUs), including Manila Electric Company (Meralco), which is the country’s biggest power service distributor with roughly 6.9 million customers.

“DUs are directed not to implement any disconnection on account of non-payment of bills until December 31, 2020 for consumers with monthly consumption not higher than twice the ERC-approved maximum lifeline consumption level,” the ERC stated.

On the specified threshold, it was emphasized that those covered shall be consumers within the consumption base of 200 kilowatt hours and higher.

The ERC mandated all DUs as well as retail electricity suppliers (RES) “to inform their respective customers” of the policy issuance on ‘no service disconnection’ that will stay until yearend.

And to ease cost pressure on power distributors, the ERC similarly instructed other players in the supply chain – including the generation companies and the independent power producers, state-run firms National Power Corporation and Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation, as well as National Grid Corporation of the Philippines and the operator of the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) to “extend the same 30-day grace period, staggered payment and no disconnection policy” to their DU-customers.

The industry regulator emphasized that the no-disconnection rule was anchored on the prescription of Republic Act 11494 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, which sets 30-day grace period on all customer-payments falling due within the period of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) and Modified ECQ phase of lockdowns in the country due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The retail electricity suppliers (RES) are similarly ordered to implement the same policy of no service cut-off, as prescribed by the regulatory body.

The deferred payment of the consumers, according to the ERC, must not also correspondingly incur interests, penalties and other charges.

“Any unpaid balance after the lapse of the 30-day grace period shall be payable in three (3) equal monthly installments without incurring interests, penalties and charges,” the regulatory body specified.

Nevertheless, for consumers who have the financial capacity to pay, the ERC is encouraging them “to settle their bills within the original due date to help manage the cash flow in the energy supply chain and ensure the continuous supply of electricity.”

The regulatory body said the distribution utilities can also opt to offer “less onerous payments to encourage early payment” of the customers.

The ERC qualified that government offices, government agencies and government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCCs) “are not covered by the 30-day grace period and installment payment arrangement.”

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