The Manila Electric Company (MERALCO) still has under seven years left in its current congressional franchise or Republic Act (RA) 9209, but Sagip Rep. Rodante Marcoleta wants it reviewed this early.
In a privilege speech delivered recently, Marcoleta — one of those strongly behind the non-renewal of broadcast giant ABS-CBN’s franchise in 2020 — accused the power giant of nearly doubling its profits than what had been authorized while consumers were facing the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
The party-list lawmaker likewise asked the Commission on Audit to inspect MERALCO’s books to determine if there were indeed significant gaps in the firm’s energy generation supply purchases, as reported to the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).
While the discrepancies may yield several conclusions, Marcoleta argued that the bottom line suggests that consumers are overcharged in billions of pesos annually based on his office’s preliminary findings covering several years.
Marcoleta cited an ERC ruling from 2017, stating that it permitted “MERALCO a cost/return to equity of 13.65.” But upon analyzing the financials obtained from MERALCO’s own website, the congressman said the firm’s return on equity was 28% in 2018 and 2019. And even amid the pandemic in 2020, the lawmaker said the power giant had a relatively high 21% return to equity, which is 54% more than the permitted cap.
Millions of MERALCO customers experienced a sudden surge in their electric bills following last year’s lockdowns.
Marcoleta also said that the company profited from systems loss charging fees, adding that these should be waived. Relative to this, he calls for the scrapping of such charges, as stipulated in Section 10 of RA 7832 or the Anti-electricity and Electric Transmission Lines/Materials Pilferage Act.
MERALCO, which recently reported a 15% year-on-year increase in its nine-month profit to Php18.1 billion, reiterated that it suspended disconnection activities in areas that were then under lockdowns. It said it also offered installment payment arrangements to customers experiencing difficulty in paying their bills.
“MERALCO is probably the only utility in the country that suspended service disconnection the longest. We understand the need for electricity when we were all asked to limit mobility and stay at home, so we did what we can to help — which is to continue serving with quality and reliable electricity service 24/7,” MERALCO Vice President for Corporate Communications Joe Zaldarriaga said in a statement.
“We continue to collaborate with the entire industry in ensuring that there will be no disruption of supply. Those who requested for payment extensions, even beyond what was ordered to us by the regulator, we made sure that customers who needed time to recover from the financial impact of the pandemic were supported and assisted,” he added.