"If it is, this is business competition at its lowest."
Were the prolonged power outages and mysterious fire to hit power poles in Iloilo City a deliberate act to disrupt the transition of power distribution to a new management in the aforementioned city?
This possibility was raised by More Electric and Power Corporation or MEPC, newly-designated distribution utility (DU) in Iloilo City in last Wednesday’s hearing called for by the Energy Regulatory Board. The hearing was based on the complaint filed by Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas before Malacañang against the alleged threat to public safety by “inadequately-maintained lines, power outages and hazardous electric posts” owned by Panay Electric Co. or PECO.
Treñas had asked the Office of the President to direct the ERC to address Ilonggos’ mounting complaints against PECO, listing down nine incidents of fire that hit PECO’s electricity poles from Oct. 19 to 21 alone based on the Bureau of Fire Protection’s report to City Hall.
The Iloilo City mayor said he was “obliged to take the necessary steps to address the needs of the people, considering that the problems and complaints raised against PECO have direct impact not only on the property but to the lives of the residents of Iloilo City.”
“While the attention of PECO had been repeatedly called (by the Office of the City Mayor) to address the (complaints), the city is still plagued by the same problems,” Treñas said in his complaint to Malacañang.
Treñas said that as the agency mandated under Republic Act No. 9136 or the Electricity Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) to handle consumer complaints to ensure promotion of consumer interests, the ERC had been given disciplinary powers to address the numerous consumer complaints against PECO.
The ERC investigation into the safety standard violations of PECO coincided with another investigation by the Department of Energy into the twin power blackouts that hit the entire Panay Island and parts of Negros Island from Monday to Wednesday last week, including a complaint that PECO did not restore full supply to the entire city until Wednesday evening despite full restoration of supply from the national electricity grid in early morning of Wednesday, Engineer Jose Rey Maleza of DOE Visayas said.
But MEPC says the numerous pole fires and the prolonged power outages last week in Iloilo City could be part of a deliberate sabotage of the law-mandated transition of electricity distribution to its management from PECO’s.
MEPC president Roel Castro said his company worries that the electric pole fires and the prolonged power outage last week in the city despite restoration of supply from the national electricity grid could be part of PECO’s effort to sabotage full transition to MEPC’s takeover of the city’s electricity distribution service.
Recalled that PECO’s franchise was not renewed by Congress when it expired on Jan. 19 because of a huge outpour of consumer complaints against PECO’s inadequate response to their problems, especially safety concerns from its ageing distribution system like leaning electric poles, spaghetti-like hanging electricity lines, over-billing that raised their bills by as much as 1,000 percent, and unfriendly and unprofessional consumer complaint personnel.
Armed with a resolution of the Iloilo City Council calling on Congress to not renew PECO’s franchise, the Senate and the House of Representatives granted the DU franchise to MEPC. To ensure a smooth transition to MEPC’s takeover of the distribution system, MEPC’s franchise law—Republic Act No.11212—allowed the ERC to give PECO a temporary Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) because only companies with congressional franchise could operate any public service business under the 1987 Constitution, Castro pointed out.
A CPCN requires a power utility to ensure public safety and efficient supply service to the public, he added.
PECO has also filed several court cases against MORE’s expropriation of its distribution assets so the new DU could take over the system within two years as required under RA 11212.
If indeed it could be proven the pole fires and power outages were part of a sabotage perpetrated by PECO, the government should order a complete ban on future transactions with the said distribution utility.
This is business competition at its lowest. The public should not in any way be affected in the business squabbles of rival companies.