Press Release
August 31, 2020

GMA 24 Oras interview of Senator Win Gatchalian with Tina Panganiban-Perez on Meralco

SEN WIN: Meralco being a public utility is imbued with public trust and the penalty and the decision of the ERC rendered that public trust has been violated and still a lot of our consumers right now are still quite wary in paying their bills because they are unsure whether the computation of Meralco is accurate or not. So having said that, franchises are given to utilities that deliver the best service to our consumers and in that delivery of service comes with trust also because when you get your bill you trust that your utility is computing your bills accurately and the bill should be an accurate computation of your consumption. So what happened here is Meralco violated that, so in the exercise of oversight of Congress, Congress can review those violations if Congress feels those violations are severe and those violations affected the confidence of our consumers then there are grounds to revoke the franchise. In the same manner with franchises being renewed, all of these things, all of these violations are thoroughly reviewed. If you look at the case of ABS-CBN wherein all of the violations came back during the Marcos time, during the time of its operations during the 70's and 60's those things can hound Meralco when the time comes. So there are two actions, number one is oversight, Congress can exercise its oversight functions in reviewing the franchise of Meralco. Number two when the time comes, but this is still far off, the Meralco franchise is still valid until 2028, but when the time comes all of these violations will have to be considered when the franchise of Meralco will be renewed at some point.

Q: Hindi pwede i-cut yung franchise before it expires?

SEN WIN: Of course that is a much more challenging option because cutting operating franchise, the bar there is higher meaning you have to really be in violation in very severe actions. That's why the bar of revoking the franchise, operating franchise for that matter is more challenging because the bar is higher. Dapat meron talagang compelling reason, compelling damage that is happening right now that warrants the cancellation or revocation of the franchise.

Q: Sino mag sususplay sa kanila ng kuryente kung mawala ang Meralco?

SEN WIN: Of course that will not be an automatic revocation that we won't have supply of electricity. the government will have to make sure that the supply of electricity will still be continued even with the revocation of the franchise. There are two options, number one the government can take over in the exercise of its power to make sure that public interest is being protected and then number two any private sector company can come in and take the place of Meralco whether the assets or separate assets, they can take the place. That is what happened in Iloilo when Congress decided not to renew the franchise of PECO in Panay Electric Company and decided to grant a franchise to another entity, hindi naputol yung kuryente. The flow of electricity continued, service continued and made sure that public interest will not be violated or will not be hampered.

Q: In case government takes over hindi na yun kailangan ng franchise?

SEN WIN: Yes, hindi na kailangan it can operate under its own power to protect public interest. It can operate through a CPCN, Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, a document that is being granted by the government to regulators to operate. So in effect it's granting itself to operate so hindi na kailangan ng franchise. But we all have to understand that the whole electric power sector is deregulated so the government's operation of this utility is temporary in nature because its deregulated, it calls for a private sector to come in and operate. So in the meantime, when no one is operating, the government can come in to make sure that electricity continues to flow in the homes of our constituents para lang hindi siya maputol.

Q: In case a private entity takes over Meralco and not the government, kailangan ba nila ng franchise?

SEN WIN: Yes, kailangan nila ng franchise in the operation of any public utility. Transmission, distribution, even telephone, cellphones kailangan yan ng franchise. Government can operate it without a franchise with its power to continue public interest and service yun lang but temporary in nature because the whole power sector is a deregulated sector, meaning it's a private sector that should operate all of the components of the power sector.

Q: Pero we're not really talking about Meralco losing its franchise now diba?

SEN WIN: No, the most important here is accountability, we have to stress that even Meralco has to respect accountability and it has to be reminded that franchises emanate from the people. We are giving them the privilege to operate and distribute power to us but they also have to perform certain standards. One of which is to make sure our bills are computed properly, making sure that our bills are well understood by consumers, making sure our bills are fair and written in very understandable terms. Yun na nga ang hindi nangyari in the past, kaya nagkaroon tayo ng bill shock, that's why a lot of people came out and we're very angry at Meralco because number one they could not understand their bill. Number two, the bills itself was very complicated. In our hearing, Merlaco apologized because their bills were not explained properly. So those are the things that come with the franchise, public interest, public service, trust and confidence. When you get your bill, how do you know na tama yung computation? A lot of it are really trusting Meralco that your bills are computed fairly, reasonably and accurately.

Q: Will you be initiating a congressional oversight investigation?

SEN WIN: I read the ERC decision, it's a 27-page decision and I'm quite satisfied with the decision. I commend ERC for acting on it swiftly, importante mabilis eh and I'm quite happy with the actions of ERC insofar in penalizing Meralco. We have to remember Meralco is 55% of all the consumption in our country, malaki siya it's a giant. What is left now is the other utilities because we have other utilities that operate that have violated the ERC directives. So those who violated, they need to be accountable, they need to be investigated in the same manner. If the ERC have proven that they have violated the directives, then they should also be penalized and pay the appropriate fines.

Q: You won't be calling for a congressional oversight investigation?

SEN WIN: Not yet, not in relation to Meralco but I'm looking at the entire system in the entire country. Meralco is just one out of the 120 plus DUs so we have 119 pa na dapat pang tignan. So that is still pending right now with ERC. Insofar as those remaining 119 are concerned, we might conduct a hearing to get some updates regarding that but because we have a lot of complaints from consumers from all over the nation, complaining of very poorly written bills, bills that are virtually cannot be understood. Those things should be looked at, those problems should be reviewed by the ERC.

Q: Advice for Meralco customers?

SEN WIN: Yes, the advice here is number one, if you don't understand your bill, don't pay because the bills should be designed to be understood and if the bill is not well written then it's our right as consumers not to pay. Then number two, read our bills properly because in the time of pandemic, kagaya ng ganito, there are areas that bill readers cannot read, for example meron tayong areas na naka-lockdown because of the ECQ, obviously our bill readers cannot read your meters and that becomes a problem. So make sure that you analyze your bill and make sure you understand the bill because if you don't, it's your right not to pay and it's the responsibility of Meralco and any distribution utility whether electric Coop or not, it's your responsibility to make sure you understand your bill.

Q: Ang worry ng customers diyan if they don't pay their bill they might lose power supply?

SEN WIN: Meralco has committed to not cut our electricity connection until the end of October 31. This is in line with, diba may four gives, the ERC directed all utilities to extend four payment terms and that is until end of October 31 or end of October is the last payment term. But then again it doesn't preclude the consumers to complain after because again, in line with trust and confidence they should know and understand your bill. Again, it is the responsibility of the utilities to break it down as simply as possible, as layman as possible so we can understand what we are paying.

Q: Message for Meralco?

SEN WIN: For all utilities, for all distribution utilities, this is a time to make sure that our consumers understand their bills and it's a time where our utilities should make sure that they execute the directives of the regulator. The aim of the directives of the regulator is to help the consumers. If our utilities don't execute those directives then our consumers are the ones who will bear the brunt of the pandemic. The four payment terms, the breakdown of the electricity bills, those things are designed to help our consumers.

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