MANILA - The Manila Electric Co (Meralco) on Monday has agreed to waive the P47 convenience fee for consumers who pay their bills online while the general community quarantine (GCQ) is still in place in Metro Manila and surrounding provinces.
The P47 fee is charged to consumers who pay their bills through the Meralco app.
"We will extend the waiver of the convenience fee for the entire duration of the GCQ," Meralco president and Chief Executive Officer Ray Espinosa told the Senate Committee on Energy.
"So until the GCQ is terminated or moved to the new normal,
we will spare the consumer of the cost of the convenience fee... It will be absorbed by us," he said.
Meralco gave the assurance after Senate Committee on Energy chair Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian appealed to the utility firm to waive the online transaction fee as it "disincentivizes" consumers from staying at home during the global pandemic.
"Kahit na GCQ, gusto natin na sa bahay na lang ang ating mga kababayan... P47 is a disincentive. Lalabas na lang sila kaysa magbayad ng P47," Gatchalian said.
(Even under the GCQ, we want the public to stay at home. The P47 is a disincentive. They will opt to go out to pay their bills instead of paying an additional P47.)
"We want to make sure that our consumers will not be put at risk when they go out to pay their bills," he said.
Espinosa said Meralco is "not in the position" to permanently scrap the P47 online transaction fee as it is charged by PayMaya, a third party online payment channel.
"The owners of PayMaya are very different from Meralco. The majority owner of PayMaya is not PLDT," he said, referring to Meralco's sister company.
But the Meralco chief advised consumers that an online payment fee would not be charged if they pay their bills using mobile banking apps instead of the Meralco app.
"All of these banks have their own online banking platforms. If you pay through your banks, there is no fee charged by these banks," he said.
Espinosa said they would also study how to "bring down the cost" of online bills payments made through the Meralco app.
"We are trying to find a payment gateway provider that could charge a lower fee under this situation," he said, noting that the costs may be eventually passed on to consumers if Meralco would continuously absorb the online transaction fees.
The Energy Regulatory Commission told Meralco to further study the implications of their plan to incorporate the online service fee in their operational expenses, noting that not all consumers pay their bills online.
In May, the power distributor apologized to consumers for not shouldering the online payment fee during the enhanced community quarantine when most physical payment centers were closed due to the coronavirus-related lockdown.