Mounting consumer complaints from Iloilo City residents over a utility firm’s penchant for overbilling its own customers, that company’s attitude in dealing with such complaints and the danger posed on people by its obsolete transmission facilities and the “spaghetti wires” that dot the city’s skyline are what caused Panay Electric Co. to lose its bid to renew its congressional franchise, a city official said yesterday.
Iloilo City Councilor Joshua Alim said Ilonggos have given the controversial utility firm all the chance in the past 96 years to improve its services, but it ignored consumer complaints and went on providing low quality of service arrogantly because of its status as a monopoly, Alim said.
He said PECO has been the subject of almost 1,800 consumer complaints these past years on issues of overbilling, frequent power outages that forced the city’s business community to pay for a study that identified what PECO should do to make its operation more efficient and lower its rates, and the company’s arrogant attitude towards addressing its own customers’ complaints.
“Despite constant criticisms aired on radio, despite many complaints about the bad quality of its service, and despite frequent power outages, PECO has done nothing to be a better service provider. The complaints appear to be all for naught. It has no heart for consumers, it has no concern for providing good service. (And) to think that they only have the privilege given by the government,” Alim said.
He pointed out that among complaints against PECO was that of ship captain Hazel Fernandez, who because he is frequently out of the country on maritime assignments, put a video camera to monitor the electric meter in his household so he could determine if indeed PECO’s roving meter readers are actually checking electricity consumption and not just guessing as many suspected.
Fernandez noted that since he is abroad most of the time, there should have been no electricity consumption in his house. He feels bad because PECO still send him high monthly bills.
Alim cited the case of Mildred Jaromahum, a retired teacher from Barangay Sinikway whose household of three had been trained to be sparing in the use of their electric appliances so their monthly electric bill will always be around P3,000. One month in 2017, Jaromahum got the shock of her life when her monthly billshot up to P178,000.
Plagued by sleeplessness and stressed out by concern her electricity connection could be arbitrarily cut by PECO, Jaromahum tried to reach any PECO employee in the company’s Facebook page, but there was no response. Finally realizing no one in PECO might be reading her missive, Jaromahum motored to PECO’s billing section to press for her claim she did not use P178,000 worth of electricity the previous month.
Alas, the company’s billing section staff did not listen to her complaint and was told instead to just pay the electricity bill on installment, Alim noted.
Alim noted that even media entities like Aksyon Radyo Iloilo and Love Radio Iloilo also filed complaints of being overbilled by PECO. In the case of Love Radio, its transmitter conked out and Love Radio had to stop broadcast for 15 days, but the following month it received an electric bill much, much higher than previous months’ bills.
Aksyon Radyo aired the first complaint of a PECO customer, Edcel Castor, in 2017 that his usual monthly bill of P8,000 suddenly became P180,000, Alim also noted. Despite insisting he did not consume that much electricity, PECO still told Castor to pay the bill in installment.
“It’s so unfair. It’s too much for consumers to go to PECO to insist they did not consume the amount of electricity being billed them, and then PECO’s personnel will act as if they heard nothing, and the consumer will be told the electricity was indeed consumed and payment could be made on an installment basis. Why will the consumer pay that kind of bill if it did not really use the electricity being charged to him?” Alim said.
“Enough is enough, Mr. PECO. The people have spoken. Congress has spoken. Kayo lang ang hindi nakikinig eh. Tama na, napagbigyan naman na kayo ng 96 years eh. (It’s only you that don’t listen to your own customers. Enough is enough, since you have been given 96 years) You were given your time to improve and to step up, but you just simply refused because of your arrogant attitude,” Alim said.
He said the Iloilo City Council will be briefed on Monday (Nov. 26) by officials of More Electric Power Corp. on the company’s plans to improve electricity service and lower electricity rates in Iloilo City when it takes over PECO’s operations when the 95-year-old utility firm’s current franchise expires on January 18, 2019.
More Power, a company with a capitalization of P2 billion and owned by business tycoon Enrique K. Razon Jr., secured the legislative franchise from the House of Representatives and the Senate to distribute electricity in IIoilo City. PECO’s own application for a new franchise has been ignored by the House after the chamber’s Committee on Legislative Franchises received tons of complaints from Iloilo City residents, including a City Council resolution asking Congress to deny the 95-year-old utility firm a new congressional license to operate.
Razon said in a statement last week that the ton of consumer complaints against PECO and even the City Council’s own resolution asking Congress to deny PECO a new franchise because of its record of bad service, its bad habit of overbilling its customers and its high electricity rates that the group Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) said was the highest not only in the Philippines but in the entire world, are what convinced him and More Power to launch a bid to take over electricity distribution in Iloilo City by applying for a franchise from Congress.