MANILA Electric Co. (Meralco) is returning the additional tariff paid for by customers who settled their bills via its online app during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) period, as the company will shoulder these fees charged by its service providers.
The Philippines’ biggest distribution utility in a response letter to the Department of Energy (DoE) dated May 20 said it should have shouldered the P47-convenience fee that its service providers charged to customers who are paying their bills via the Meralco online app from March 16 to May 15.
“I sincerely apologize for this lapse,” Meralco President and Chief Executive Officer Ray C. Espinosa said in his letter, a copy of which was shared by the DoE to reporters.
“Meralco will shoulder the Convenience Fee charged during the aforesaid ECQ period and refund to the customers the fees they paid during this period,” he added.
On May 14 letter, the Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi asked Mr. Espinosa to explain the additional charges paid for by customers which he said “consequently increases the electricity cost to the consumers, a clear deviation to all the government efforts to bring down the cost of utilities, especially during these difficult times.”
The listed utility said PayMaya, which operates and maintains the payment gateway of its app, charges its customers a convenience fee, stressing that this is not remitted to the company.
“The charging of a convenience fee by a payment gateway provider like PayMaya is a common commercial practice in the online payment service industry,” it explained.
Launched in September 2018, the Meralco app provides a 24/7 online payment platform, allowing customers to file service applications, to view their billing records, and to report their concerns, among others.
Only Cebu City and Mandaue City are still placed under ECQ, and Metro Manila, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Zambales, Angeles City, and Laguna are under the modified ECQ up to the end of May, while the rest of the country is under general community quarantine.
The utility has yet to respond to the question of whether it will also be shouldering convenience fees from service providers beyond mid-May.
Meralco is at the center of mounting complaints and inquiries on the apparent increase in its electricity charges in May, which it said was the result of its current meter reading, plus the estimated kilowatt-hour consumption of customers in March and April billings.
Meralco’s controlling stakeholder, Beacon Electric Asset Holdings, Inc., is partly owned by PLDT Inc. Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has interest in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls. — Adam J. Ang