Pecking PECO for refund

HENNING BLEGVAD, a Danish octogenarian at Fil-Estate Subdivision in La Paz, Iloilo City, was telling us that he had been going to the office of Panay Electric Co. (PECO) to claim refund of his P8,000 bill deposit  but  to no avail.

“I wonder if I will live to receive the money,” he sighed, knowing that PECO would soon give way to MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power) as power distributor in Iloilo City.

There are thousands of others as disappointed over overdue refund of bill deposits.

Two consumer groups, i-Konsumidor and Panay Consumers Alliance, are now at the forefront of a crusade to recover millions of pesos of refunds that PECO owes power consumers, usually either for “overbilling” or refund of deposits.

Ted Aldwin Ong, chairman of i-Konsumidor, recalled that way back in November 2009, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) ordered PECO to refund the P631 million it had overcharged customers. PECO is still paying in “installment.”

i-Konsumer is the complainant in intervention in the expropriation case filed by MORE Power against PECO at the Regional Trial Court (Branch 37, Iloilo City).

Because of the impending “Transition of Operations” from PECO to MORE Power as mandated by law (RA 11212) granting the new 25-year franchise to the latter, PECO should now “settle the full amount which the ERC has directed it to refund.”

We beg of power consumers to review the “Magna Carta for Residential Electricity Consumers” as adopted in a resolution by the ERC on June 9, 2004. Let’s see what it says about refund of bill deposits.

Whenever a new home owner connects with the system, he is required under Article 28 of the magna carta to deposit an amount equivalent to the estimated billing for one month to guarantee payment of bills. This bill deposit is refundable on formal demand after three years or thereafter within one month from termination of service, provided all bills have been paid.

On its own, PECO does not reveal the aforesaid  availability of bill-deposit refunds. On the contrary, real-life incidents have unfolded where the “disconnected” have been tricked into making a second deposit as prerequisite for reconnection.

Double whammy! According to article 19 of the magna carta, a power distributor may disconnect a client for non-payment of overdue bill only when the latter has been served written notice 48 hours before such disconnection.

A victim of violation of the above rule is home owner Merlyn Pomperada of Villa Arevalo. Coming home from a vacation abroad in February 2019, she discovered her power line disconnected;  her meter, confiscated.

She lost no time paying her bill at the PECO office, only to be told she had to re-deposit P8,000 to be reconnected. She paid that, too, when she should not have because her previous deposit had remained unwithdrawn.

Article 8 exempts consumers from payment of meter deposits because “distribution utilities have incorporated the cost of these electric watthour meters in their rate base.”

What could have compelled the House of Representatives to reject PECO’s application for renewal of franchise submitted in 2017 and to approve MORE Power’s subsequent application in 2018 instead?

In the years 2017 and 2018, consumers’ complaints for overbilling deluged the Sangguniang Panlungsod of Iloilo City, which in turn, forwarded them to the House.

It was not uncommon for customers, for example, to be billed P10,000  when they used to pay only P1,000. Instead of correcting the error, PECO asked its “victims” to pay on installment.

If that is no way to scare customers away, then we don’t know what is. ([email protected]/PN)

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