Nalzaro: Visayan Electric, MCWD should explain

·4 min read

RADIO program host, urban poor advocate and international boxing judge Edward Ligas has filed a complaint before the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) against Visayan Electric Co. for what he termed as “exploitation, cheating and defrauding” of the power utility firm on its consumers through overcharging of electricity consumption, a violation of Republic Act (RA) 9136, or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act. He also accused Visayan Electric of violating the provisions of RA 11469, or the Bayanihan (1) to Heal as One Act. However, this law expired last June 24 after it was passed last March 25 by Congress when the coronavirus disease (Covid 19) pandemic hit the country. It was replaced by RA 11494, or the Bayanihan (2) to Recover as one Act, which was passed last September.

Ligas claimed that his monthly electric bill doubled during the implementation of the lockdown due to Covid-19. Previous to the lockdown, he said, his average monthly bill was only between P3,400 to P3,500. But during the months that we were on lockdown, his billing went up to P10,000 from April to June. It increased further to P13,641 in August and P11,761 in September and P9,057 in October.

Ligas argued that he expected his electricity consumption to go down as he was no longer using the electric iron to iron his children’s uniforms since they didn’t have to go to school and they seldom went out. He is demanding a refund of P27,000 based on his computation. He is also calling for a Senate inquiry on the matter for the benefit of other consumers, who were also allegedly victimized by the same scheme of the power utility.

A source inside the Visayan Electric said “Ligas failed to settle one of his monthly bills on time.” That is the reason for the sudden increase in his monthly bills. But if Ligas failed to settle one of his monthly bill, the power utility could have immediately cut off his power supply, a drastic move that Visayan Electric does to delinquent consumers. The source refrained from discussing the matter in public, citing RA 10174, or the Data Privacy Act of 2012. Section 16 of the said law states prohibitions in releasing any information about the personal information of a person.

The source said the company cannot divulge any information about Ligas, not even his account number. Just imagine how strict the law is with regard to releasing personal information. But Visayan Electric should answer this complaint in public for the benefit of the public because it’s not only Ligas who is complaining. There are other consumers who have similar concerns. Beside, this is a matter of public interest. Ligas’ cause has triggered the formation of Cebu Concerned Consumers’ Association (CCCA), whose advocacy is to protect consumers from abuses by utilities. The group will initiate an online petition.

But it’s not only electric consumers who are complaining about the sudden increase in their monthly bills during the lockdown. Consumers of the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) are also up in arms. One of the complainants is Arlyn Ponce, proprietress of Angel’s Sports, a garment and sports uniform designer. Here’s Ponce’s official letter to Joey Daluz III, MCWD general manager.

“The undersigned, like many other consumers of MCWD, would like to formally inquire from your good office regarding our water bills for the month of March to August 2020, amounting to P20,370.32. During these months, the company has no business operations, at the same time the water service was on and off to no water. The undersigned is wondering on how the bill was generated, that almost no one was using the office and no one was basically using water during these months.

“The undersigned formally inquire and submit these queries in order for us to be clarified on the situation or circumstances. It is but fitting, as a customer to inquire to the bill of the utilities, with the service we got and the bill that goes with it. In these challenging and trying times, we are hoping for your immediate action on this matter.”

This letter was dated Sept. 23, but until now, Ponce has yet to receive a response from MCWD. She claimed her billing before the lockdown was only between P1,500 to P2,000 a month and that it went up to P10,000 during the lockdown. Can MCWD officials explain this?