By Jaydar Medrozo
On August 31, we will be celebrating National Heroes Day. We will commemorate the Cry of Pugad Lawin and honor both known and unknown brave Filipinos who fought for our country’s freedom. Heroes who fought for our independence.
This year as we celebrate National Heroes Day, we must also take time to remember and salute to our modern-day heroes. In this time of pandemic, we honor our medical and non-medical front-liners, teachers, OFWs, men-in-uniform, local garbage collectors and all other Filipino working extra hard to safeguard and help our community, society and economy survive in this pandemic.
Our modern-day heroes are battling not just the pandemic but also the lack of support and opportunities in the Philippines and the high costs of commodities and utilities. If we take a closer look at our everyday heroes, we can see that at the end of the day they are just consumers. We know that consumers are important to economic growth, but we, the modern-day heroes, have been taken advantage of, unacknowledged, dishonored, and disrespected.
In a report published by Finance Asia in February 2020, it was reported that 66% of our country’s GDP was driven by consumer spending. We are one of the driving forces of the economy. But what issues are we consumers facing? We face a lot of issues that affect how we live our everyday lives. A timely and very important issue we currently face today is the issue of high electricity rates; most especially now that the majority of us will be working from home and our children are getting ready for the anticipated remote education set up.
According to a study published in Eco-Business, the Philippines ranks second to high electricity rates in Asia. We are allocating a sizable portion of our income to pay for electricity instead of allocating it for food, education, and health. What about minimum wage earners? What about Filipinos who are “isangkahig, isangtuka”? Electricity is important for them too. So instead of putting more food on the table, a good portion of their income goes directly to paying their bills.
For years, we have complained, protested, cried in disapproval. We clamored for lower rates, reliable electric service, and representation in the decision-making. But we were ignored.
As consumers, we were taken advantage of when Meralco gave its end-users the “bill shock” during the ECQ period.
As many of you don’t know, under the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA), we were supposed to have the opportunity to freely choose where to get our electricity from. It opened up a whole new market for huge customers and if allowed, EPIRA would have brought empowerment to more and more consumers through Open Access. Yet, as the threshold for allowed contestable customers became lower, business interests were able to set up legal roadblocks up to the Supreme Court. Open Access, the consumers’ power to choose its power supplier, which would have created a regime of competition for price and service — will just have to wait some more. And unfortunately for us consumers, we will just have to continue to pay some more.
It is clear that Filipino consumers are unheard, unacknowledged, and disrespected. As consumers of these big distribution utilities, we need to come together and unite as one. We, consumers need to come together and build synergy with the responsible government agencies, businesses, and industry players. We need to meaningfully participate in the decision-making policies that involve the electric industry and together pursue energy options within planetary limits.
The already progressive provisions in the EPIRA law would help ease our everyday electricity woes. Thus, its full implementation will play a crucial part in achieving the objective behind the law’s creation. We expect the new blood in the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to accept this as a challenge. The commission must ensure that they continuously monitor, and more importantly, penalize any violations that big distribution utilities may commit. And, with the help of an oversight, consumer protection will be guaranteed.
When we come together as one, we can create a sustainable energy industry that is transparent, accountable, and reliable that will put the interest of sustainable development and consumer welfare at heart. And when that day comes, National Heroes Day will be more meaningful. As modern-day heroes like us will feel truly heard, acknowledged, and honored.
Salute to all everyday heroes!! Salute to all consumers!!!
Jaydar Medrozo is a consumer rights advocate.