DOE orders Meralco to explain online collection fee


The Department of Energy (DOE) has asked the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) to explain the collection of a P47 fee from consumers who pay their bills online.

The DOE noted in a letter it sent to Meralco President Ray Espinosa that the additional P47 per transaction fee collection effectively increases the electricity cost of the consumers, adding that this is “a clear deviation to all the government efforts to bring down the cost of utilities, especially during these difficult times.”

“We have been receiving reports that your system effectively obliges the paying customer to depart from exiting payment arrangements i.e., through banks and now they have to go through your app for which they have to pay a fee of P47 per transaction,” Cusi was quoted in a report.

Meralco explained that the P47 fee was provided to address customers’ clamor for a 24/7 payment option, stressing that this is “purely voluntary” as other payment options are also available to consumers.

“The online fees are not Meralco’s fees and does not accrue to Meralco, but are the fees charged by online payment service providers to those using their platform or system to transact online payments for their convenience,” said Meralco Senior Vice President and head of Legal and Corporate Governance William Pamintuan.

The DOE argued that Meralco is required to obtain the government’s approval “to do something like this.”

“Apparently, your offices are justifying that you do not need to go through the government because this fee collection does not go to Meralco–that it goes to your app service provider,” said Cusi.

The DOE also wants Meralco to explain the reason behind the payment scheme and if it’s approved by the management.

“Likewise, we would like to question your intentions on this and your decision to time the introduction of this new process during this pandemic,” the DOE added.

Pamintuan explained that it is not charging the online fees to its rates.

“This will create cross subsidies not allowed by EPIRA [Electric Power Industry Reform Act]. In the interest of fairness and transparency, only customers availing of our online payment system should be charged with the online fees,” he noted.