By Myrna Velasco
Power utility giant Manila Electric Company (Meralco) has been ordered by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to cut its electricity rate by applying the P4.3 billion worth of unclaimed tax refund.
The ERC gave the utility firm a 30- day leeway to submit a rate reduction scheme that it will be enforcing relative to the unclaimed refund amount. Meralco Vice President Lawrence S. Fernandez said “right now, we were given 30 days by the Commission to submit a proposal.”
He said “there are a number of factors to consider” in the propounded cost reduction scheme – and these are currently still being studied by the power utility.
The unclaimed refund accrued from the mandated payback that the Supreme Court had ordered Meralco to undertake relating to the income tax component of its rates that were passed on in previous years. The Meralco refund ruling was rendered in 2003 or about 16 years ago.
Apart from the cost reduction on unused refund amount, the ERC likewise ordered Meralco “to continue with the implementation” of the refund to its qualified customers – through a timeframe that will lapse on June 30 this year.
Relative to this, Meralco was directed to submit within 10 days “an updated report on the gross and net amount of refund effected as of December 31, 2018.”
The ERC further directed the utility firm “to inform its customers immediately” to claim their refund. There is a required publication in newspaper of general circulation for four (4) weeks – and that shall commence immediately upon Meralco’s receipt of the ERC order.
Despite endless criticism thrown against the regulatory body on its very slow pace of rendering decisions on pending cases, ERC Chairperson Agnes T. Devanadera said “this new set of ERC Commission will see to it that customers do not only get billed with just and reasonable rates, but we will also ensure that they get the best value from their hard-earned money.”
Meralco was likewise instructed “to deposit in a separate interest-bearing bank account the unclaimed amounts of the income tax refund – for transparency and easy monitoring purposes.”
Further, the utility firm was also directed “to submit the detailed list of customers who have not yet claimed their refund within 30 days from the receipt of the regulatory body’s ruling.”
Meralco was similarly mandated “to post in all of its business offices the notice and the list of names of customers who have not claimed their refund” – fundamentally for their information and reference.