IT had been over a year since the Energy Regulatory Commission found that the Ilocos Norte Electric Cooperative had overcharged its member-consumers by a whopping P102 million. Sadly, nothing much had happened since then, save for the ERC deciding the issue with finality and INEC filing a motion for clarification—apparently in a bid to understand how they would refund their member-consumers, and for how long.
The grindingly slow movement of the case had irked Sangguniang Panlalawigan member Mariano V. Marcos II—the very same person who brought out the issue which prompted the ERC to review INEC’s billing formula. Marcos believes that INEC officials are just delaying the inevitable by filing the above-mentioned motion and that the power cooperative should just simply start the refund process.
Seemingly, here lies the problem. INEC apparently had used the overcharged—or “overrecovered” in INECspeak—amount for expansion and service improvement purposes. As a result, they are not in a position to give the refund in one fell swoop, which is why they are asking for some leeway—particularly in the time frame of refund—to fulfill their obligation.
Although the P102 million may seem like an enormous amount, the actual overcharging amounted to only a little over 10 centavos per kilowatt-hour. Calculating from this, member-consumers who use an average of 100 KWh a month would have been overcharged by only about P1,000 for the eight-year duration of the erroneous billing.
And though the refundable figures may not seem much, it should be taken in another perspective, which is in the way INEC collects payments from its member-consumers. The no frills “pay-up-or-be-shut-off” policy being implemented by INEC, wherein ordinary consumers who are unable to come up with the necessary amount within 10 days have to deal with having electricity to their residences cut, prominently comes to mind. The manner in which member-consumers are being pressured to settle their bills in such a short time pales—very much—in comparison to the way they want to settle the refunding of their overcharged amount. Add to this the fact that they charge interest for late payment even if it had been just a matter of days, and other penalties should electricity be cut and which would be requested for reconnection. Yet in their refund, you would only get what had been overcharged even if it had been 10 years ago—no interest for the hard-earned money, no inflation adjustment, and no apologies.
To top this off, the long time the refund process has been taking to be implemented, it may even be overtaken by a rate increase as a result of a Transco application which the ERC approved. And still lurking in the shadows in the other increase applied for by INEC—”tax recovery formula” in INECspeak—to pay for the franchise tax being collected by local government units.
As things go, there seems to be no respite in sight for Ilocos Norte electric consumers. The highly touted windmills—which was earlier thought to bring down power rates in the province—is serving more as a tourist attraction than anything else. Power rates in the province remain to be among the highest in the country—and it is set to soar some more.
In view of all these, INEC should now really show some concern to its so-called “member-consumers,” another INECspeak, by fully implementing the refund order in a way which would be acceptable to both parties. Otherwise, they should just build on their INECspeak vocabulary to make Ilocos Norte residents believe that they are really working for their welfare.