Published May 12, 2017, 10:01 PM By Myrna M. Velasco
The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) indicated that it will likely render next week its provisional authority on the P6.9-billion refund of Manila Electric Company (Meralco) that may be reflected in the June billing of its customers.
But even prior to the release of the final copy of its decision, the directed refund has already been igniting controversy following the disappearance of an earlier press statement on the matter that had been posted at the agency’s website.
Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate is primarily questioning why such statement had been “suspiciously taken down” from the regulatory body’s online portal. He stressed “is there something fishy happening in the ERC once again that is detrimental to the consumers?”
An official of the ERC claimed that there was an “irregularity” in the website posting of the R6.9-billion refund that could have added P0.7541 per kilowatt hour (kwh) reduction in consumers’ electric bills starting in May billing.
If that was enforced, the rate cut for Meralco customers this month should have been at R1.0441 per kwh, including the announced reduction of P0.29 per kwh – but such expectations of heftier financial relief to consumers had been thrown into the air in this billing cycle.
In a text query sent on Tuesday (May 9), ERC Officer-in-Charge Alfredo J. Non indicated that “no final order has been signed yet, so Meralco has no basis to adjust billing.”
On Meralco’s part, company executives are questioning the process on how the decision was arrived at – because even if the utility firm applied for the refund of its over-recoveries, they noted that not a single public hearing had been done on the case yet.
This newspaper reported on the refund verdict as culled from the ERC’s own website posting, but that was until it was taken down mysteriously for unexplained reasons. The refund press statement was uploaded afternoon of May 3 (Wednesday) and just disappeared from the ERC website on May 8 (Monday).
ERC Commissioner Josefina Patricia M. Asirit branded “the case of the missing refund order” as highly irregular, because it had not been discussed at the Commission level that a press release will be issued.
She admitted though that discussions on a provisional authority on the refund of the over-recoveries of Meralco had been sorted out at by the Commission prior to the enforcement of Malacañang’s 90-day suspension on Chairman Jose Vicente B. Salazar. “The R6.9-billion refund figure – that was correct. But you have yet to translate that into equivalent per kilowatt-hour, we didn’t have calculation on that. We also discussed cost recovery duration – of either one year, six months or three months, but at this point, I don’t want to anchor everything on the press release because it was highly irregular as it was uploaded,” Asirit stressed.
She also denied the existence of a “draft order” on the case, although at one point in the interview with reporters, she indicated “I have yet to read it (draft order).” What she qualified is that the Commission still has to reconfirm the process of approval because that had been done prior to the Palace order against the agency’s head.
The ERC Commissioner cannot also categorically say if adjustments would still be made on the decision – or if the level of the refund costs will be reduced or the proposed duration of recovery be stretched. “I don’t think I am at liberty to say it yet,” she just tersely stated.
“We will be having a special commission meeting on that or it will be taken up in a regular Commission meeting… we were beset by the challenge of having to promulgate to confirm the order or the decision because of the Chair’s preventive suspension… so the cases that were left hanging for final decision shall be referred back to the Commission for confirmation,” she explained.
In that particular press statement, ERC stipulated that “consumers will save approximately P0.7541 per kWh per month on their electricity bills until July 2017 after the ERC directed Meralco to immediately refund P6.9 billion in overcharges collected over the past three years.”
Quoting Salazar prior to his suspension, the ERC statement added that “the refund should be reflected in the May 2017 billing, so Meralco customers will feel its effects right away.”