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MANILA – Surigao del Sur 2nd District Rep. Johnny Pimentel, vice chair of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, said the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) should do away with the online payment convenience fee of PHP15 per transaction as the payment actually goes to its sister company.

Pimentel said it has become an inconvenience fee for Meralco customers who use the company’s online portal to pay their monthly electricity bills.

“Meralco claims that the convenience fee goes to its payment partner, CIS Bayad Center Inc.,” Pimentel said in a news release on Sunday. “However, Bayad Center, which is engaged in the bills payment collection business, is actually 95 percent-owned by Meralco itself.”

Thus, there is no separate Meralco partner, he added.

“It is Meralco itself ultimately collecting the convenience fee,” Pimentel pointed out. “Meralco is nickel-and-diming its 7.9 million customers with the extra charge on top of their actual electricity bills.”

The phrase “nickel and dime” refers to a pricing scheme wherein a business collects extra small fees for supposed additional features or services.

Pimentel urged the Energy Regulatory Board to compel Meralco to get rid of the convenience fee for the benefit of customers who are reeling from elevated electricity bills and rampant inflation.

“We must stress that under the Consumer Act, the State is duty-bound to safeguard the interest of consumers, promote their general welfare, and to establish standards of conduct for business and industry,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel’s dressing-down of Meralco comes at a time when the electric utility is seeking to renew its congressional franchise for another 25 years.

Data showed it netted PHP37.1 billion in profits in 2023, surpassing the PHP27.1 billion earned in 2022.

From January to March 2024, Meralco reported a net income of PHP9.8 billion, up from PHP8.2 billion in the same quarter in 2023. (PR)