The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) on Thursday imposed a P19-million fine on utility giant Manila Electric Company (Meralco) for violating the agency’s advisory on bills covering the March to July community quarantine periods. 

In its Aug. 20 decision, the ERC stated that Meralco did not follow orders to indicate that the bills were estimates. The power utility, which has 6 million customers in Metro Manila and neighboring areas, also did not comply with the mandated installment arrangement, regulators said.

“Meralco’s neglect to provide accurate and timely information especially during this time of pandemic has created chaos and confusion to most of the electricity consuming public,” ERC Chairwoman Agnes Devanadera said.

“The commission issued the relevant advisories with the intention of alleviating the financial burden of the electricity consumers who were mostly adversely affected by the community quarantine measures implemented by the government,” she added. 

According to Devandera, Meralco’s failure to follow the ERC’s directive resulted in a “multitude of complaints” from consumers. 

Based on ERC’s evaluation, Meralco incurred a total number of 190 days of violations. The commission said that a basic penalty of P100,000 was multiplied by the number of infractions committed, resulting in a P19-million administrative fine. 

The Manny Pangilinan-led utility was also ordered to set to zero the distribution, supply, and metering charges of consumers whose monthly energy consumption did not exceed 100 kWh, effective in the next billing cycle. 

“The said retail discount will provide temporary economic relief to more than two million lifeline consumers and their family members at least for a month,” ERC said. 

The utility giant apologized earlier for not clearly explaining the spike in electricity bills.

Meralco President and CEO Ray Espinosa said on Aug. 24 that the company’s “no power disconnection” policy was extended until Oct. 31. Jayziel Khim Budino