A special report by the Publishers Association of the Philippines, Inc. (PAPI)
For almost an entire century, most Ilonggos—long-suffering by nature–simply gritted their teeth and maintained their composure even as they were deeply frustrated by Panay Electric Company (PECO)’s appalling record of inefficiency and insensitivity, if not downright abuse, as it filled up its role as the sole distributor of electricity in Iloilo City for 96 years.
However, there were also Iloilo City residents who didn’t want to be mere spectators and had it up to here with the overbilling and ineptness and filed formal complaints with not just the local government unit but also the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) in a determined bid to put an end to the monopoly. But everyone knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Still, they persevered, and all their hard work finally paid off when Congress trashed PECO’s franchise renewal last year.
The rest as they say is history.
But 96 years is not a short time, and while Ilonggo power consumers are gratified to be rid of the mess that was PECO, there is still much to scrutinize and probe.
For instance, what really caused PECO’s downfall? What disgraced the perceived oligarchs: the Cachos? Why exactly were consumers so displeased and ultimately angered to the point of no return?
Here are a few good reasons–some documented, some spoken in hushed tones—that might interest you to know.
Ilonggo Raffy Señeres once told Business Mirror columnist Val A. Villanueva that the relationship between local power consumers and PECO could be summarized in one phrase: a marriage made in hell.
“PECO just implemented a 1,000-percent increase in our monthly bill to cover, as it claimed, the overhead cost of its new metering system, which converts the uncollected electricity consumption into a mega-monthly electric bill,” Señeres was quoted in 2018.
Mayhem followed, naturally, and Seneres’ friend Mandy Marasigan said that it took no less than the ERC to pacify PECO customers who were close to rioting by resolving 80 percent of the complaints.
“But, in fact,” he added, “shockwaves had already been reverberating within Iloilo’s political and business circles long before then.”
“The sudden rise in our monthly bills had been preceded by a ton of customer complaints filed with the ERC over many years. The utility firm was officially sanctioned for overbilling its customers, leading to ERC ordering PECO to refund P631 million in overbilling charges to its customers in 2014,” Villanueva further wrote.
But despite this resounding defeat, PECO not only failed to fully comply with the ERC order forthwith—this according to testimonies during the Congress hearings–It also continued to play deaf to consumer complaints and with their callous, apathetic ways. It was no wonder then that they were evicted by the very people they swore to serve but never really did.
INTERMITTENT AND PROLONGED POWER OUTAGES
PECO, for much of its last years as the city’s electric power distribution utility, had become synonymous to the phrase “technical incompetence” following years of unexplained and prolonged power interruptions that for a while had actually threatened the economic viability of this booming city, turning off investors instead of attracting them.
So pervasive were the power outages, in fact, that there is no need to cite empirical data or find overwhelming consumer testimonies to show and prove that PECO’s service, at least in its last few years, was nothing but a complete mess.
Ask the average Iloilo City resident in the street and they’ll tell you harrowing experiences with the former electric power distributor. If you’re any lucky, they will tell you exactly how many times, and how long, power interruptions were during those years. It was, for many Ilonggos, the “Dark Ages” of Iloilo City, with PECO humorously called “Patay Electric” in reference to electric power going on and off.
Also, PECO was found by the ERC’s own inspection team to have committed apparent operational lapses as its “protective devices were not properly rated and designed, and that some poles were found leaning and in unsafe positions.”
As reported by BusinessWorld in its December 5, 2019 issue, the ERC team also discovered that “some meters were found to be clustered and installed in an elevated metering center without securing prior ERC approval.”
This precise finding by the ERC itself could mean that in some parts of the city meter reading can be inaccurate at the very least or total guesswork at worst.
In fact, it was quite laughable that PECO had assured Ilonggos they would “not leave Iloilo City in darkness,” as reported in BusinessWorld on January 2019, the month its franchise effectively expired, when the city was already constantly in total darkness due to their bungling operations.
FAILURE TO MODERNIZE
Another one of PECO’s major failures was the inability to undertake a major upgrade of its facilities.
In fact, Singapore-based WSP Consultancy Pte. Ltd., which was contracted by the Iloilo Economic Development Foundation (ILED) in 2018 to study the systems of PECO to direct it towards world-class service to align it with economic development plans for the future, concluded that the utility firm had yet to completely implement measures to make it a world-class utility some 8 years after the business community made its recommendations.
According to ILED Foundation Executive Director Francisco Gentoral, the WSP recommendations were “just the minimum steps that a distribution utility should take to serve its stakeholders”, not even those that would match services offered in other regions in Asia.
Columnist Villanueva, for his part, in his October 2018 “Businesswise” column article in Business Mirror underscored “Because of its lackadaisical approach to modernizing its service, PECO lags way behind other utility firms in Manila, Cebu and Davao. When compared with other utilities in Asia, it falls way, way behind global standards.”
In fact, in a rare public statement, business tycoon Enrique Razon, Jr., the man behind the electric power utility firm MORE Power, decried PECO’s practice of declaring annual dividends reaching to the hundreds of millions, instead of investing such funds to improve its transmission facilities left decrepit by years of utter neglect.
PECO’s assets and facilities were in such bad condition that even months after they surrendered power distribution to MORE Power, the city still suffers from brownouts as the new power utility has no choice but to implement urgent maintenance works on substations, transformers, and the distribution system since it took over in late February.
In just five months since taking over, MORE Power president Roel Castro said they have replaced and upgraded 183 distribution transformers and erected 160 new electric poles on top of replacing 11,000 electric meters.
All these problems, Castro said, are the end results of PECO’s failure and/or refusal to utilize new capital expenditures in its last 10 years to improve and upgrade its facilities.
MILLIONS OF UNPAID TAX ARREARS
Being the lone electric power distribution provider in the city of Iloilo for the most part of the past century–a real monopoly for 96 years–people mistakenly thought PECO had earned enough and was responsible enough not to fail in the payment of all its tax dues or at least make regular incremental payments.
But even on this one, PECO presumably failed, big-time.
It is on record that PECO’s tax arrears steadily rose from 2016, right about the time when the City Treasurer’s Office first directed the company to pay real-estate tax on the land where its estimated 30,000 electricity poles around the city nestle.
The city government reportedly rebuffed PECO’s settlement package and instead demanded full cash payment of its then estimated P89-million realty tax arrears.
And while PECO eventually did pay in December 2019 what had already ballooned to a P135-M real property debt, it only did so because they were forced by circumstances into settling their tax dues, happening as it did just days before the city government was set to auction off their assets.
It, indeed, was a case of too late the hero, or a dismal and late attempt to save face. Either way, it did nothing to convince their consumers that PECO should be the power utility of choice to usher in a new decade and the foreseeable future. Nothing left for PECO to do but leave the provision of dependable electrical power to a company that will not shrink in its responsibility to their consumers from here on out.
In the Court battle that ensued between the two warring parties, MORE Power called out “PECO’s desperation…which is too deep that it refuses to see the very realities that are right in front of it.”
MORE power listed the following “undeniable realities” for PECO to understand the situation it has put itself into.
Reality 1, PECO has been operating the distribution system in Iloilo City for more than 90 years, but its franchise expired last year. Its application for a new franchise was denied by Congress. Under the EPIRA, only a company with a franchise can operate a distribution utility.
Reality 2, Congress approved, and President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law on 14 February 2019, Republic Act No. 11212 (RA 11212) which granted MORE the franchise to operate the distribution system in Iloilo City. RA 11212 authorizes MORE to expropriate the distribution assets of PECO to ensure continuous and uninterrupted supply of electricity. Congress recognized that it is impossible to build a new distribution system by the time PECO’s franchise expires. MORE was mandated to “modify, improve, upgrade, and change such facilities, systems, or the management and maintenance thereof,” and “to continuously improve its facilities and employ the latest technology and innovations that promote efficiency and is beneficial to consumers.”
Reality 3, PECO went to the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Courts to question the validity of Sections 10 (on expropriation) and 17 (on Transition) of RA 11212. PECO got the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court Br 209 (“RTC Mandaluyong”) to hastily (and without trial) declare Sections 10 and 17 unconstitutional. To do this, the RTC Mandaluyong purposely ignored (and did not even mention) the basic principle and strong presumption in favor of constitutionality of laws (which PECO could not hurdle). This anomalous Judgment of the RTC Mandaluyong was appealed to the Supreme Court by MORE and by the Office of the Solicitor General. The Supreme Court has already issued a TRO against this anomalous Judgment.
Reality 4, PECO has gone to the Court of Appeals twice for a TRO to stop the expropriation case in the Iloilo RTC. The Court of Appeals has denied the TRO and has rejected PECO’s argument that the pendency of the case on constitutionality of RA 11212 is a valid reason to stop the expropriation case. When the writ of possession was issued by the Iloilo RTC, PECO went to the Court of Appeals for the third time for a TRO to stop the implementation of the writ of possession. The Court of Appeals did not issue a TRO. After the sheriff had fully implemented the writ of possession, PECO filed a supplemental petition with the Court of Appeals asking that PECO be returned to possession with a status quo ante order. The Court of Appeals has NOT granted PECO’s request for a status quo ante order.
Reality 5,the sheriff has already fully implemented the writ of possession and the Addendum and has submitted the Sheriff’s Return reporting on this full implementation. The implementation of the writ of possession allowed MORE to take responsibility for the operation of the distribution system with the help of technical personnel from PECO (the technical personnel manning the 5 substations) who have since then transferred to MORE. MORE gave them priority in employment as contemplated in RA 11212 and the Addendum.
Reality 6,the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) is the regulatory agency with primary jurisdiction over qualifications, permitting, and technical aspects of the operation of a distribution utility (under the EPIRA and RA 11212). ERC has verified and recognized the technical capability and readiness of MORE to operate the distribution system. ERC has resolved to revoke the provisional CPCN of PECO and has resolved to grant a provisional CPCN to MORE.
Reality7,MORE has maintained and operated the distribution system using the same technical personnel who had transferred from PECO and has ensured the continuous and uninterrupted electricity in Iloilo City since 28 February 2020 to date. Counting up to July 25, 2020, MORE has delivered 1,025,399,806.01kwh of electricity from Panay Energy Development Corp, WESM, Kepco-SPC, Aboitiz Power, and Panay Power Corp. MORE was already able to replace the 8 defective distribution transformers which required immediate replacement (a serious problem that PECO had long ignored) with new ones within the first week of operations. MORE responded to 183 service calls and 1,540 customer care issues including 900 applications for new meters.
Reality 8, since PECO’s technical personnel have transferred to MORE, PECO must admit that its remaining officers and employees cannot operate the 5 substations.
Reality 9, PECO has no franchise, no CPCN, no technical personnel, no possession of the 5 substations, and no TRO.
‘NOT A CORPORATE WAR’
For MORE Power president Roel Castro, however, the rift between the two power firms should not be viewed as a corporate war, underscoring the fact that MORE Power has nothing to do with PECO.
“We are here in Iloilo City not because we are after PECO; we are here to redress the sorry state of power facilities here and address complaints of poor service and customer care and high electricity rates,” Castro said in various interviews.
He said that MORE Power extended a “reconciliatory hand” to PECO but was rebuffed.
“I understand that it is difficult to accept the fact for PECO management to lose its franchise after nearly 100 years in the business but, as a public utility, it should put the interest of consumers and Iloilo City above everything else. We respect and understand that what they’re going through is painful, but it’s time we set aside our differences for the benefit of the Iloilo City power consumers,” he stated.
He maintained that Congress did not renew the legislative franchise it issued to PECO on the basis of numerous complaints about its service–including pole fires, brownouts caused by its dilapidated facilities, and overbilling–and noted that the Energy Regulatory Commission likewise revoked its certificate of public convenience.
“In addition,” he said, “the Iloilo City government did not issue PECO a business permit, clear proof that it no longer has the legal capacity to operate a power distribution business.”
PECO, on the other hand, said the claims of MORE Power against PECO’s old and dilapidated distribution system is a misrepresentation of its “inexcusable inefficiency”since it took over the city’s power distribution.
“This is nothing but an unsubstantiated and convenient excuse by an entity whose incompetence and inexperience to operate a distribution system is now revealed in the face of recurring power outages in Iloilo City,” Atty. Estrella C. Elamparo, PECO’s legal counsel lamented.
“To say that PECO’s distribution system is old and dilapidated reeks of desperation to conceal the fact that MORE is completely incompetent and inexperienced to operate a distribution system and provide reliable electricity to the people of Iloilo City,” she stressed.
Citing MORE Power’s own data as posted in its Facebook page, PECO recounted in its filing to the ERC the “326 hours of power outages” that Iloilo City consumers had already suffered from February 29 to June 22 this year, a period when MORE was already the power service provider in the area.
It was further stated in the filing that “if the period to be considered is extended until 16 July 2020, MORE would already have accumulated a shocking total of 412 hours of outages over a period of only five months.”
She further said that under MORE Power management, the city’s distribution system experienced several feeder level power outages, which evinces a major degradation in the service of power distribution in Iloilo City.
“INFLATED OUTAGE DATA”
Inits defense, MORE Power slammed PECO for allegedly inflating the power outage data in Iloilo City before the Energy Regulatory Commission.
“As PECOdesperately wanted MORE to look bad, it manipulated the numbers to artificially inflate the figures. PECO not only double counted, it counted one brown-out period 16 times. PECO included in its count two brown-outs that did not happen. PECO also counted a longer period than the actual period of outage,” MORE Power said.
“PECO engaged in multiple counting, which was not in accordance with the mandated method of recording interruptions under ERC Resolution No. 12, Series of 2008 (A Resolution Adopting the Guidelines for the Monitoring of Reliability Standards for Distribution Utilities),” it said.
“From February 29 to July 16, there were only 182.13 hours of power interruptions and not 412.20 hours as alleged by PECO.PECO inflated the figures by counting multiple times a single interruption event,” MORE Power said.
“These scheduled outages were necessary because of the need for urgent maintenance work on various aspects of the dilapidated distribution system that MORE took over from PECO,” it added.
For his part, Engr. Rey Jaleco, head of MORE Power project development and management, described the power situation in Iloilo City as “nothing short of appalling” when MORE Power took over in late February this year.
“MORE Power really has to prioritize the rehabilitation of PECO’s facilities in all aspects of the distribution system because not only are they outmoded, they are dangerously substandard,” he said.
“You name the problem and PECO’s facilities have it. From over-heating distribution elements to rotten and dilapidated poles and cross arms, low sagging and long spanning primary lines, aging/defective kW-Hr meters, dilapidated pole of main feeder backbone at feeders, non-operational breakers, downed insulators, undersized distribution lines, oil-leaking and overloading transformers, unmaintained batteries and gases-build up at the substations,” he added, emphasizing that these are all “ingredients of disaster”.
“This was why MORE Power had to act fast when it took over the distribution utility of the city in February. We had to salvage what was still salvageable from the neglected facilities that MORE Power inherited from PECO while simultaneously introducing technology upgrades,” he explained.
Jaleco explained that the 13-hour preventive maintenance of the sub-stations was the only option for MORE because not doing it would have been more disastrous.
Jaleco further explained that under ERC Res. 17 Series of 2011 or “Resolution Adopting The Investor-Owned Electric Distribution Utility Planning Manual”…the distribution facilities must have sufficient capacity to meet the growing demand of the customers. Substations, lines and distribution transformers must not be overloaded.”
Ideally, substation percent loading should not exceed 70% of its maximum rated capacity, and lines and distribution transformersshould not be overloaded.
“But the PECO facilities we inherited clearly showed overloading. The 20 MVA sub-station in the City Proper was operating at 110%; the 10 MVA in Jaro, at 96%; the 25 MVA in Mandurriao, at 109%; and the 25 MVA in Molo, at 111%.”
“Needless to say, this would eventually lead to the fast deterioration of power transformers and all operating electrical equipment and to high risk of equipment breakdowns/explosions, as well as damage to distribution transformers and protracted power interruptions,” he said.
Jalecoadded that the Philippine Distribution Code provides that “The Distribution Utility is responsible for preparing the Distribution Maintenance Program for the maintenance of its Equipment and facilities.”
“This means that the distribution utility is responsible for providing and maintaining all distribution equipment and facilities and we are doing just that,” he stressed.
Under this Code, he said, regular preventive maintenance schedule shall be conducted to prevent unnecessary breakdown and maintain the good operating performance of electrical equipment.
“When MORE Power took over, the existing facilities had oil leaks at the 10 MVA Jaro Substation and the 20 MVA City Proper Substation. The workplaces in those five substations were all filthy as there was apparently a lack ofmaintenancedone, or none at all, in those substations,” he said.
Jaleco added that under the same Code, “The Distribution Utility is responsible for designing, installing, and maintaining a distribution protection system that will ensure the timely disconnection of faulted facilities and Equipment.”
“So ideally, all substation facilities must be equipped with proper protection at the high side and low side of the power transformer, and feeders must be equipped with circuit breakers to disconnect timely faults, but the existing Molosubstation during our takeover had inactive low side protection at 13.8 kV CB. This would have led to the damage of the power transformer, through which high value of fault current passes,” he noted.
Jaleco said the same Code providesthat the utility distributor should be responsible for the design, installation, operation and maintenance of the metering system and itscomponent parts to ensure the integrity and accuracy of the metering system, a provision which was also violated by PECO.
He said that existing facilities before the takeover did not follow the standards in metering installation and thus violated regulatory requirement. Instead, outdated/phased-out meter installation and rampant defective and aged electro-mechanical meters were a common sight during the takeover.
In a recent accomplishment report made before the Iloilo City Council, MORE Power president Roel Castro said that in so short a time that MORE Power has been in operation, it was able to replace a total of 175 “rotten poles” as of August 31 since MORE Power took over on February 29, this year.
He said MORE was also able replace and update249 transformers while stressing, “If you will count the number of days that we have been operating, we have been replacing more than one (1) transformer per day on the average.”
He said that transformer replacements is comprised of 57 units of 100KVA, 95 units of 75kVA, 62 units of 50 kVA, 28 units of 37.5 kVa, and 7 units of 25 kVA.
In addition, he said that MORE corrected a significant number of hotspots of overheating sections comprising of air-break switch, disconnect cutout, disconnect switch, primary bushing, primary connector, secondary connector, primary jumper, sectionalizing cutout, line cutout, fuse cutout, pole grounding connector, and hotline clamps.
Also accordingly, as of August 31, MORE Power was able to energizea total of 1,296 “New Connections” and currently has a total of 5,827 “Ongoing Applications” due to its continuing “Project Valeria”. Relatedly, it was able to attend to an accumulated total of 115,059 “Customer Care Responses” as expressed through the company’s customer welfare desk, helpline, and social media platforms.
“We really need to fix things, and that is what we are actually doing 24/7. Rest assured, we are initiating proactive programs and policies attuned to the needs of our time to better serve the people of Iloilo. And this is propelled by our avowed mission to steer our city closer towards sustained prosperity and security through a sustainable energy service,” Castro told the City Council.
As this developed, various sectors of the Iloilo City community expressed its full backing to MORE Power, with all of them saying the new power distributor is on the right track.
In fact, the Institute of Integrated Electrical Engineers of the Philippines (IIEE) Iloilo Chapter has lauded MORE Power saying “it is moving in the right direction.”
Engr. Allan Biton, IIEE Iloilo Chapter president, himself said this when invited by the Iloilo City Council recently as among the resource persons during the fact-finding investigation that it conducted following outages and maintenance activities that occurred in the city following MORE Power’s takeover of PECO.
“I believe that MORE Power is more than competent to address the power problems here,” he noted.
Msgr. MelitonOso, head of the Jaro Archdiocese Social Action Center, shared the same view of the IIEE, which, according to him, makes MORE Power better than PECO.
Oso, a prominent Church leader here, said that what separates MORE from its predecessor is its “openness” to engage the public as well as its transparency in all its activities.
“For me, from the standpoint of being a consumer myself, I can see very well that MORE Power’s amulet or charm is its being open to engage the public, and in informing and educating its consumers about what is going on. This makes me really happy. I believe we are all looking at a better and literally brighter future,” he said.
“But I ask everyone to bear with the situation and have a little more patience. MORE cannot do miracles, like instantly solving the woes we had experienced for decades under PECO. It’s only fair that we allow MORE to prove its worth,” he underscored.
Monsignor Oso listed the following attributes of MORE Power, which, he said, Ilonggo consumers should be grateful for: MORE Power, with its iKONEK Program in partnership with the city government, is making it easier for people to secure their own regular account with the power company; the transparency of all its actions and activities; quick response team; prompt attention to calls relative to queries, grievances, and complaints; the regular conduct of dialogue with practically all sectors in the city; and the openness of its officials to personally attend to situations relative to its services.
In saying this, Monsignor Oso personally cited MORE Power president Roel Castro, whom, he said, is basically leading his team in providing Ilonggos a “new and better perspective” of what a utility service is really all about.
A multi-sectoral group composed of the religious sector, transport sector, parent-teachers federation, and the media also joined in the caravan that hailed the initial successes of MORE Power and lauded it for “creating a righteous change.”
“From visibility, transparency, rapid response, and courteous personnel to leading a transformational impact in the campaign to rid Iloilo City of power thefts…MORE Electric and Power Corporation is creating change and a righteous one at that in God’s sight,” said Pastor Nestor Gonzales, vice president of KoalisyonBantayKuryente (KBK), Inc. when he joined as one of the panelists during “The Community Energy Forum 2020” at the Hotel Del Rio.
The forum, a regular platform for the community to discuss relevant issues involving the power utility in Iloilo City, was launched by MORE Power and is anchored by its spokesperson Jonathan Cabrera.
The forum panelists, who discussed the maiden topic “Jumpers: The Iloilo City Scenario”, included Halley Alcarde of the Western Visayas Transport Cooperative (WVTC), Roger Calzado of the Division Federated Parents Teachers Association (DFPTA), Punong Barangay Gary Patnubay of Brgy. East Baluarte, Molo; and John Sapio from the media.
“We are thankful for MORE Power for initiating this campaign…to change the old system where power pilferers were rampant in our city. At our end, we are in full support of this program because we know it is the righteous thing to do,” Pastor Gonzales noted.
Alcarde, president-trustee of the KoalisyonBantayKuryente, for his part, described the recent campaign of MORE Power as a “big deal”, something which PECO failed to implement during its time.
Barangay Captain Gary Patnubay of Brgy. East Baluarte, Molo, on the other hand, confessed that whileabout 30 to 40 percent of his constituents are power pilferers, 75 percent of them are already processing their applications with MORE Power.
“I’ve been very hands-on in assisting my constituents through the legal process, and I can say with confidence that many of those who used to have illegal connections are now taking steps to become legitimate consumers of electricity,” he said.
Patnubay reported that since after“Oplan Valeria”, power trip-offs in his barangay have significantly lessened and their power supply has stabilized.
John Sapio, KBK trustee, who represented the media in the forum, for his part, said that MORE Power has dramatically changed the once poor services of power utility in the city with its working hotlines, prompt response to complaints, modern facilities, and courteous employees, all in sharp contrast to what PECO offered.
Meanwhile, DFPTA president and KBK Auditor Roger Calzado, stressed the impressive response rate of MORE Power, noting that with the new power distributor, it only takes two hours to troubleshoot an exploded transformer compared to the three days it took the former distributor.
“When there is a problem, you can expect MORE Power to be there in minutes and restore the power in 2 hours whereas PECO would attend to the problem only the next day and restore power only after 72 hours,” he said.
MAKING CONNECTIONS EASY
Pastor Gonzales has attributed the early gains of the new power distributor on the program launched by the City Government of Iloilo in partnership with MORE Power dubbed as iKONEK.
Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas said “iKONEK” aims to flush out illegal power connections and at the same time encourage Ilonggos to secure their own regular accounts with the new power distributor.
“We have activated aone-stop-shop for this purpose so it will now be very easy for Ilonggos to secure the necessary documents and safety inspection certificates required by law such as the Certificate of Residency, Government ID, and Oath of Undertaking of Connection and Meter at Electrical Safety Inspection Reports,” the city mayor said, while emphasizing that “Ilonggos should be grateful that MORE Power opened its doors for everyone andmade it easier, especially those with illegal power connections, to apply and become legitimate consumers.”
MORE Power said that technical studies showed that PECO had allowed the number of illegal electricity connections to reach an estimated 30,000 in blatant disregard of the negative impacts on theIlonggos’ pockets and the damage that it had caused on the city’s power distributions system because of overloading from unaccounted electricity use.
“For decades it has been the legitimate consumers paying for the electricity being pilfered from such illegal connections. And these illegal connections do not just burden legitimate consumers who pay for the stolen electricity but it also takes a toll on the system as it results in overloading,” Treñas underscored.
The anti-pilferage campaign got its support from the City Council when it passed a resolution authorizing Mayor Jerry Treńas to enter into a MOA with MORE Power to step up the campaign against illegal connections.
Treñas said that to finally put a stop on the illegal activity “the city government will implement the harshest penalty for those involved in such illegal acts, including pilferage of electricity with the use of so-called jumpers.”
“We will apply the national law. All law enforcement agencies are supposed to implement the law. And I will implement this law. I have no choice. I will file cases if needed. As for the bail bond, the amount will be double the amount of the pilfered electricity, so it will be very harsh,” hestressed.
“WAY OF LIFE FOR YEARS”
Meanwhile, Congresswoman Julienne Baronda of the Lone District of Iloilo City, said that in light of the issue of rampant electric pilferage that has become a “way of life” for some residents in the city over the years under the management of PECO, an all-out war has to be declared in order to finally put an end to illegal connections.
Baronda said that recent technical analysis shows there could be as many as 30,000 illegal power connections existing in this southern metropolis and that MORE Power should be given the necessary support to end it.
She appealed to Ilonggos to help put a stop to the illegal operations by helping in finding out where these illegal connections are, saying “it is alarming that MORE Power receives two to three reports of illegal power connections every single day.”
“But power thieves will only exist only if we allow them to, either by turning a blind eye to their existence or securing illegal connections ourselves. In contrast, it would be beneficial to all of us if illegal tappers were to do the right thing: apply for a regular connection with MORE,” she pointed out in various interviews.
Earlier, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) bared that a third of a legitimate consumer’s electric bill is to cover the cost of electricity lost from illegal connections—now pegged at about 30,000—which proliferated under the old utility.
Systems loss in the city’s distribution system reached a high 9.3% in 2018, the last year of PECO’s expired congressional franchise.
The partnership between the city government and MORE Power gave birth to a door-to-door crackdown on jumpers dubbed as “Oplan Valeria” which, as of press time, has accounted for jumper disconnection of more than 5,000 jumper users or those illegal power connections using “jumper cables” that bypass the meter, exposing the perpetrators to high voltage electricity in the process and normally the cause of feeder overloads causing brownouts as well as fires from explosions, and, in some cases, perpetrators’ risk of burns, electrocution and even death.
“The harsh reality is that, because of these jumpers, a lot of legitimate consumers are being affected one way or another,” said Ariel Castañeda, head of MORE Power apprehension team, noting “jumpers lead to massive losses amounting to millions per month which legitimate power consumers compensate for since the cost of stolen electricity is shouldered by them under the so-called systems loss. “
MORE Power said that it estimates illegal connections in Iloilo City to be 30,000, or around 28 percent of the total connections. Crackdowns in June alone shaved off 1,090 from the total.
Amandate under Republic Act 7832, otherwise known as Anti-Pilferage Law, states that perpetrators are liable to prosecution and risk having a mandatory jail term of up to 12 years and/or a fine of up to P20,000.
For his part, Engr. Edwin Montemayor, MORE Power head of network operations department, reported that check meters installed on distribution transformers revealed that around 60% to 80% of power distributed to any given area at any given time are being lost to jumpers.
MORE Power, it was reported, recently partnered with MIESCOR Engineering Company in facilitating the thermal scanning of distribution networks all over the city and this identified at least 900 “hotspots”or overloaded distribution transformers.
Atty. Allana Mae Babayen-on, legal officer of MORE, said that an increasing number ofviolators of the Anti-Pilferage Law are being hauled to Court due to MORE’s intensified campaign.
“Power thieves should really think twice now because we are here for the long haul. We will not just apprehend,we will also have those areas closely watched by our security personnel to ensure that identified violators would no longer be able to reconnect their jumpers. This is not going to be only for the short-term; we really mean business,” the lady lawyer said.
Castañeda, for his part, said that with the campaign, legitimate consumers are going to experience lesser brownouts and a significant decrease in their future billings.
“All this will eventually result to a stable supply of power in the community and, yes, peace and order,” he added.
CITY COUNCIL PITCHES IN, TOO
Just recently, the Iloilo City Council, in a bid to further its support tothe campaigns of MORE Power, passed an Ordinance fortifyingthe law against power saboteurs.
Atty. Romel Duron, chairman of the SP Committee on Public Utilities and proponent of the measure, said it’s about time for the city governmentto help ensure the continuous and uninterrupted transmission and distribution of electricity in the city and assist MORE Power in providing reliable services to its consumers.
He said the Ordinance strengthens both the Anti- Pilferage Law and Republic Act 11361 or the Anti-Obstruction of Power Lines Act, which prohibits the planting of tall-growing plants, the construction of hazardous improvements, and the conduct of any hazardous activities within the power line corridor.
“We know for a fact that power interruptions and overloads caused by pilferers and saboteurs is not only sabotage against the power distributor but is also a direct affront to the legitimate consumers, who are actually the ones paying for the stolen electricity,” he pointed out.
A lawyer by profession, Duron said that although there is an existing Anti-Pilferage Law which intends to curb the illegal use of electricity and theft of electric power transmission lines and materialsas well as provide penalties to discourage perpetrators from committing such offenses, a local Ordinance would give more teeth to address the nagging problem of electric pilferage and sabotage.
“There are conducts that national laws don’t cover and to pass a local Ordinance in sync with these existing laws will bolster our campaign to get rid of pilferers and saboteurs in our midst. That is the spirit of the Ordinance that we just passed,” he said.
“We also included penalties that are appropriate to the offenses that are now commonplace, such as unauthorized climbing of electrical posts,” he said, noting, “we really have to establish protocols in partnership with barangays, the police, and the utility distributor so we can eliminate instances of sabotage to benefit us all.”
Violators of the Ordinance shall be penalized with a P5,000 fine and/or imprisonment.
MORE POWER HAS TO CONTEND WITH
Energy is considered to be the lifeline of an economy and the most vital instrument for socio-economic development in a community like Iloilo City. Significantly, the city’s energy distribution infrastructure has been grossly underfunded for years as clearly manifested by PECO’s dilapidated and rotten facilities as well asoutmoded and dangerously substandard equipment.
And when it came to the point that the Ilonggo consumers resoundingly said “enough” against PECO,paving way to the birth of the “No to PECO Franchise Renewal” campaign, Congress has put MORE Power in place with the hope that it will not just rehabilitate the ageingand dilapidated distribution infrastructure, but also roll-out an appropriate development plan to improve and upgrade the same.
In the meantime, it has to contend with the fact that a significant number of power consumers have grown cynical about the power situation especially with the power anomalies and outages that have been haunting the new power company since it took over the place of PECO on February this year.
MORE Power, apparently, is left with no other choice but to go “double time” to show its mettle and prove its worth.