DESPITE the supposed ‘reconciliatory move’ of MORE Electric and Power Corp. with the Panay Electric Company (PECO), its predecessor in power distribution to Iloilo, the ongoing legal battle between the two camps continues to heat up with consumers now appealing to the Supreme Court to act as an arbiter.
It’s apparent however, that PECO has not shown any way of conceding even if Congress failed to renew its congressional franchise after almost a century of being Iloilo City’s sole power source or distributor. The company has been bombarded with charges of pole fires, brownouts allegedly caused by its dilapidated facilities and overbilling, among others.
MORE Power president Roel Castro said that they had extended a “reconciliatory hand” to PECO but was rebuffed.
The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has revoked PECO’s Certificate of public convenience. The Iloilo government as well, no longer issued a business permit to the company owned and operated by Marcelo Cacho and family.
Recently, the Dept. of Justice (DOJ) has “dismissed for utter lack of merit” the charges of conspiracy and falsification of public documents filed by Cacho against some local officials, who supposedly falsified 27,000 signatures in a petition which became the basis for Congress’ non-renewal of PECO’s franchise.
The case stemmed after a petition campaign for PECO’s non-renewal of franchise was circulated, because of its alleged poor and inefficient service.
MORE Power started servicing Iloilo energy consumers beginning February 29 of this year after Congress granted its franchise. Business tycoon Enrique Razon is behind the utility firm.
PECO for its last few years of operation was humorously dubbed “Patay Electric Company” because of its off and own electric power, with Ilonggos saying they lived in “dark ages.”
In a recent accomplishment report made before the Iloilo City Council, the MORE Power president said that in so short a time that the company has been in operation, it was able to replace a total of 175 “rotten poles” as of August 31 since MORE Power took over last February.
And in just six months after taking over, Castro said they have replaced and upgraded 183 distribution transformers and erected 160 new electric poles on top of replacing 11,000 electric meters.
With Congress’ approval and with President Rodrigo Duterte’s signing into law of Republic Act 11212 which granted MORE the franchise to operate the distribution system in Iloilo City, the law authorizes MORE to expropriate the distribution assets of PECO to ensure continuous and uninterrupted supply of electricity.
The recent technical analysis also 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.
A mandate 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.
MORE Power 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.”
“I understand that it is difficult 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,” Castro stated.
FAILURE TO MODERNIZE
Another one of PECO’s major failures was the inability to undertake a major upgrade of its facilities, according to MORE Power officials.
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 with economic development plans for the future. It 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.
Castro earlier said it will take three years to modernize Iloilo City’s distribution system and the company committed capital expenditure of P1.8 billion.