Gatchalian appeals for another extension of MERALCO grace period


With the Manila Electric Company’s (MERALCO) no-disconnection period for lifeline consumers set to end this weekend, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian has urged the power giant as well as other distribution utilities (DUs) to be lenient in the cutting of electricity supply to customers who still can’t afford to pay their bills in full.

MERALCO reiterated that it will no longer be extending its grace period, which it last extended to January 31 upon the request of House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco. The series of grace periods were a result of the government’s imposition of lockdowns summer of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, Gatchalian appealed to DUs to seriously consider other consumers on a case-to-case basis such as senior citizen customers; persons with disabilities; displaced workers and; micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) that have ceased operations last year.

Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy, cited a survey from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) survey conducted from August to September last year, showing that 99.6% of the 1.5 million DTI-registered businesses are MSMEs. Meanwhile, around 90,000 enterprises, mostly MSMEs, remain closed. The senator pointed out that many consumers have experienced job loss or reduction in income.

“May iba pang mga malalaking kumpanya ang nag-anunsiyo ng pagsasara kaya madadagdagan pa ang listahan ng mga mawawalan ng trabaho. Sana ay bigyan naman sila ng konsiderasyon. Ang mga ito ay kadalasang mga consumers din na higit sa 200 kilowatt hour ang kunsumo ng kuryente kada buwan,” Gatchalian stressed.

“While I empathize with the distribution utilities that they have financial obligations as well, I don’t think it would make a dent in their collections if they would leave out those who really cannot afford to pay even a fraction of their outstanding bills,” he added.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros also made an appeal two weeks ago to extend the no-disconnection policy, to which MERALCO said it would study her plea.

On the other hand, MERALCO Vice President for Corporate Communications and Spokesperson Joe Zaldarriaga pointed out that disconnection is not its priority. Nonetheless, the company has advised customers who still have dues to coordinate with its channels, so they could be provided assistance.

Zaldarriaga further said that this utility giant is bending further to seek a middle ground on a case-to-case basis for customers having difficulties settling their arrears.