In a move that deserves public commendation, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) barred the state-run Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation (PSALM) from passing on to consumers new universal charges (UC) for stranded debts (SD) and stranded contract costs (SCC).
The focal point of this decision are the beneficiaries of the Murang Kuryente Act (MKA) that was enacted to provide a safety net for those in the poor, marginalized and disadvantaged sectors.
According to projections made by Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chairperson of the Senate energy committee before the enactment of the new law in August 2020: “A family that consumes 200 kilowatt-hours per month can expect that there will be a ₱172 decrease in their electricity bill every month, equivalent to an additional three to four kilograms of rice per month.” This is because of the deduction of two universal charges from their electricity bills.
PSALM expressed concern over the ₱8 billion allocation made by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for PSALM’s subsidy this year, a ₱38 billion shortfall from its expected share from the ₱208 billion Malampaya fund that had been channeled to government coffers that was identified in the MKA as its funding source.
Prior to the ERC order, PSALM had filed eight petitions for more than ₱90 billion worth of pending cost recoveries of universal charges for SD and SCC, which should have bloated charges to consumers by up to ₱0.80 per kWh if fully passed on.
Recall that in August 2020, the ERC ordered power distributor Meralco to pay a fine of P19 million for failing to follow government advisories during the national health emergency, and creating a massive “bill shock” among consumers.
The ERC also provided relief to the so-called lifeline consumers with monthly energy consumption of not more 100 kilowatt-hours per month by setting to zero their distribution, supply and metering (DSM) charges that account for about 22.4 percent of the retail electricity bill.
At this time of contagion, compassion and genuine concern for the plight of the Filipino masses must be a principal criterion in the action agenda of government agencies. While millions of Filipinos are struggling to survive amid the massive dislocation brought on by the pandemic, they look up to their government for support and assistance. In the words of former President Ramon Magsaysay, “Those who have less in life would have more in law.”
More than providing regulatory relief, government must also ensure that open, freeflowing and continuous lines of communication are available to the public at all times so that their concerns are addressed promptly. While ongoing initiatives, including the long-anticipated massive rollout for vaccination, leave much to be desired, no effort must be spared in making like more comfortable and less burdensome for all Filipinos.