Meralco to refund P47 fee, says sorry
The Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) said Thursday it would refund the P47 fee it charged to customers who paid their bills using its mobile app.
This decision was announced after the utility firm caught the ire of the Department of Energy (DOE), which directed Meralco to explain the rationale behind the collection of the so-called “convenience fee”.
DOE Secretary Alfonso Cusi said Meralco’s collection of P47 per transaction effectively increases the electricity cost to the consumers. He said this was “a clear deviation [from] all the government efforts to bring down the cost of utilities, especially during these difficult times.”
Meralco, in a letter to Cusi dated May 20, apologized.
“I sincerely apologize for this lapse. Meralco will shoulder the convenience fee charged during the aforesaid ECQ (Enhanced Community Quarantine) period and refund to the customers the fees they paid during the period,” said Meralco president Ray Espinosa.
“Perhaps what Meralco should have done during the ECQ period – March 16 to May 15 – was to shoulder the convenience fee charge by the payment gateway provider considering that the Meralco Business Offices and Bayad Center branches and partner outlets were closed during that time,” Espinosa added.
During the ECQ, Meralco recorded “around 300,000 transactions” using its online app since March 16.
He explained to the DOE that Meralco bills paid via the Meralco App Online Payment Facility go through a payment gateway operated and maintained by PayMaya, which is linked to the Visa and Mastercard networks.
PayMaya Philippines is a subsidiary of Voyager Innovations, the digital innovations company of Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) and Smart Communications Inc.
In effect, Meralco said it is PayMaya that charges the Meralco customer a convenience fee of P47 per transaction. Espinosa said, “no part of the convenience fee goes to Meralco and that the charging of a convenience fee by a payment gateway provider like PayMaya is a common commercial practice in the online payment service industry.”
However, if the customer is the one utilizing PayMaya to pay for the Meralco bill, no additional fee is collected. Espinosa assured the DOE that Meralco will be “more sensitive in the future and shall be ever mindful of the best interest and well-being of our customers.”
Also on Thursday, the House Committee on Energy was asked to investigate Meralco’s controversial P47 transaction fee.
Deputy Speaker Johnny Pimentel of Surigao del Surigao, in a statement, said the P47 fixed “convenience fee” – as Meralco calls the transaction charge – appears to be going to a financial firm that happens to be a sister company of Meralco.
“Based on our initial inquiry, it would seem there is a new financial intermediary involved – an interloper of sorts – where there used to be none between Meralco and the customer paying bills online,” Pimentel said. Pimentel, however, did not name the financial go-between.
“The question now is: Is it possible for the public to pay their utility bills online without a financial intermediary or interloper involved? And the answer is yes,” Pimentel said.
“We are raising this issue now because in the future, we do not want Filipinos to be burdened by extra transaction fees when they pay their broadband or water bills online, or when they pay their contributions to the Social Security System, Pag-IBIG Fund or the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. online,” Pimentel said.
“Online facilities are supposed to make it easier for the public to perform transactions at no extra cost,” Pimentel said.— Source: Lenie Lectura and Jovee Marie N. Dela Cruz / businessmirror.com.ph