ILOILO City – Around “70 percent to 80 percent” of consumers’ complaints against Panay Electric Company (PECO) have been resolved, according to the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).
ERC conducted a two-day mediation conference here (April 17 and 18) covering 86 complaints.
“We are happy. These were all settled with the participation of PECO,” said Atty. Gregorio Ofalsa, officer-in-charge of ERC’s Consumers Affairs Service.
Most of the complaints were about the consumers’ accumulated bills.
“May kini-claim kasi ang PECO na amount, ‘yung mga under-billed. Ang ginawa namin, we recalculated them…meron kaming mga adjustments na ginawa na nararapat sa batas. Pinag-aralan namin hanggang sa bumaba ‘yung claims ng PECO,” said Ofalsa.
Most of the complainants were satisfied, he said.
“Na-reduce substantially ang amount and then we asked the complainants kung okay ba sila sa ganitong computation. Pinakita and in-explain naming ng maige kung paano namin na-compute. Willing silang bayaran ‘yun on installment basis na lang,” said Ofalsa.
For complaints that were not resolved, Ofalsa said another round of negotiation would be conducted.
These complaints were “a bit complicated,” said Ofalsa, and involved huge amounts and allegations such as electric meter tampering and illegal power connection.
According Engineer Randy Pastolero, PECO’s assistant vice president for operations, the company would actively reach out to consumers with complaints even without a notice from ERC.
“Mahatag kami sulat inviting them to our office to try to settle the issues sa ila billing in a mediation setup,” said Pastolero.
The two-day ERC mediation taught PECO how to handle consumers’ complaints, he added.
Ofalsa said they discussed with PECO how to improve the latter’s Customer Welfare Desk.
“Sabi niya (Pastolero) re-review-hin niya lahat ng staff…magkakaroon talaga sila ng total rehabilitation of the Customer Welfare Desk,” he said.
Ofalsa declined to speculate on the effects of consumers’ complaints on PECO’s application for franchise renewal.
PECO’s franchise will expire next year.
Ofalsa, however, said, “Malaki ang tatrabahuin ng PECO about their systems and current policies. Kailangan naming upuan ito. Kailangan naming mag-usap-usap kung papaano mareresolba, iwasan ang ganito kadaming complaints.”
November last year, the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) passed a resolution “vehemently opposing” the renewal of PECO’s franchise and calling on the national government to take over the power distribution utility “until a qualified distributor comes in.”
PECO has been monopolizing power distribution in this city for over 90 years.
One of the reasons the SP cited in pushing for the nonrenewal of PECO’s franchise was the power distribution utility’s failure to completely refund the consumers it overbilled.
In 2004 ERC ordered PECO to refund consumers P631 million.
“Up to this date, the refund has not been completed,” said Councilor R Leonie Gerochi.
The other reasons the SP cited were the following:
* poor customer complaints service
* erroneous and inconsistent electric meter readings
* lack of transparency in operations
Mikel Afzelius, PECO corporate communications officer, played down the city council’s call for the non-renewal of the power distribution utility’s franchise.
PECO, he said, wanted to work with the city council for the city’s progress.
“We have a common ground in trying to help the people of Iloilo City…the city council wants to protect the rights of the citizens while we in PECO want to serve our valued consumers better,” said Afzelius.
According to Gerochi, PECO’s poor customer complaints service and erroneous meter readings “have caused a considerable number of its customers to suffer anxiety and sleepless nights.”
“Their electric bills suddenly increase more than 10-fold of their usual bills without any adequate explanation or rectification from PECO,” he said.
Instead of addressing billing complaints, Gerochi said, PECO makes consumers sign promissory notes “where consumers are compelled to pay without justification as to the said (billing) increase.”/PN