MANILA, JULY 16, 2008
(STAR) By Donnabelle Gatdula - The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) yesterday released the draft rules for the implementation of prepaid electricity similar to prepaid cellular telephones.

ERC believes that the adoption of the prepaid electricity scheme would help cut down systems losses and eventually lower power rates.

Under the proposed rules, prepaid meters to be offered to the public would be able to store electricity for at least two months.

The rates to be applied in any prepaid transaction “should be based on the previous month’s postpaid rate.”

The scheme will not affect subsidized rates for households consuming less than 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month.

To protect consumers, ERC said distribution utilities, like the Manila Electric Co., will shoulder the cost of prepaid meters and no deposits will be collected for this.

ERC said they would conduct public consultations on the proposed draft rules.

“All interested parties may submit their comments, in both hard and soft copies, on the proposed rules on or before Aug. 15, 2008,” the ERC said.

Public consultations are scheduled on Aug. 26 and Sept. 2 for electric utilities based in Mindanao and the Visayas at the National Transmission Corp. Banilad substation in Cebu City and those in Luzon in the ERC’s main office in Pasig City.

A prepaid scheme is also available in the oil sector. Just like in the cell phone industry, offering prepaid cards enables consumers to manage their consumption.

Recently, Seaoil Philippines Inc. launched its “Price Lock Fuel Prepaid Card,” which offers premium and unleaded gasoline at a rate locked at a certain level for a given period of time. The scheme was successful and prompted Seaoil to extend the implementation of the promotion period.

Seaoil’s prepaid card helps cardholders budget their fuel consumption and also insulates them from the continued increase in the prices of gasoline during the promo period.

The idea for prepaid electricity was raised by Meralco officials during a meeting with President Arroyo last May.

Meralco had been studying the scheme for some years now.

Meralco believed that the use of a system of prepaid electricity would help address the problems of pilferage, which adds to the systems charge in consumers’ monthly electricity bills.

Once the ERC issued the guidelines on the scheme, he said the distribution utilities could come up with their respective applications if they will implement the scheme.

A prepaid electricity meter system will use the same concept as prepaid cellular phones and phone cards where consumers pay in advance for their consumption, according to Meralco treasurer Rafael Andrada.

“Everything is being studied thoroughly as one of our concerns is that it would be labeled anti-poor because you have to pay first before you can use (electricity), unlike now that it would be used first before collection,” Andrada said.

Meralco also wants to ensure that the meters would be tamper-free.

Ivanna de la Peña, Meralco head of utility economics, earlier said that aside from South Africa, the prepaid meter system has been successfully implemented in China and the United States.

“We are considering it because it’s also viewed as a solution to collection problem and delinquency,” Dela Peña said.

OFW inflows hit record $1.43 B in May By Des Ferriols Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Remittances from Filipinos working overseas rose 15.6 percent to hit a record $1.43 billion in May, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) reported yesterday, as more Filipinos left the country to work abroad despite a global economic slowdown.

More Filipinos were deployed in the Middle East, most of whom were recruited to work on the expansion of a giant oil processing complex to feed the rising global demand for crude oil, the BSP said.

The May data brought the five-month remittance level to $6.8 billion, up 14.7 percent from a year earlier. Remittances remained strong at above $1.2 billion per month so far this year.

Despite a slowing global economy, the number of Filipino workers deployed abroad in the first five months of the year climbed 39.5 percent from a year earlier.

“This reflected the distinct preference for the skills quality and competence of Filipino workers,” BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr. said.

Tetangco said banks and non-bank remittance centers were also going into even more aggressive marketing efforts to provide expanded financial services to overseas Filipino workers and their beneficiaries.

Analysts said higher domestic consumer prices have encouraged Filipinos overseas to send more money to support their families at home.

Remittances from over eight million Filipinos, around 10 percent of the population, have boosted domestic consumption and the inflows are a cornerstone of the economy.

With the peso depreciating more than eight percent so far this year, families of overseas Filipinos would have more pesos to spend on their basic needs, supporting consumption spending in a high inflation environment. Inflation hit a 14-year high in June.

Consumption accounts for about 70 percent of Philippine gross domestic product.

The dollar inflows from remittances also help boost the country’s balance of payments at a time when the Philippines is seen to be one of the most vulnerable economies in the region due to its rising import bill and weakening exports.

The BSP estimated that remittances from overseas Filipino would hit $16.4 billion. This year, up 10 percent from last year despite the general slowdown in the global economy.

On the other hand, total remittances coursed through banks would reach about $15.9 billion, up nine percent from 2007.

The bulk of the remittances originated from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong.

Tetangco said the projections were presented to the Monetary Board and have been sent to the Development Budget Coordinating Committee (DBCC)for incorporation in the government’s 2008 revised economic assumptions and projections.

The global economy had begun slowing down this year but the surge in oil-rich nations that traditionally preferred to hire Filipino workers had also led to an increase in deployment this year.

Workers who would otherwise have no employment opportunities in the country’s inadequate economy have opted to work abroad to get better paying jobs.

According to Tetangco, the BSP expects this trend to continue even with the global slowdown and remittances would form a critical part in the build up of the country’s international reserves.

Last year, OFWs sent home a total of $14.45 billion according to Tetangco and this year, the 10 percent growth would fuel more foreign exchange inflows from the sector that has been feeding the growth in the country’s consumption-led expansion.

Remittances from overseas Filipinos would be the one steady source of inflows this year as central bank officials expect a 70 percent drop in the country’s balance of payments surplus from $8.6 billion last year to only $2.5 billion this year.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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