As consumers in Iloilo City have been troubled by frequent power interruptions since the takeover of the power distribution utility servicing the area in March, an investigation by the House Committee on Energy is being pushed to determine how the dispute on electricity service provision in the city has been aggravating predicaments of the consuming public.
Under House Resolution No. 785, Ako Bisaya party-list Representative Sonny Lagon urged Congress to probe “the status of the distribution of electricity in Iloilo City to ensure that power distribution will not cease and that the people of Iloilo will not be affected.”
In yesterday’s virtual Kapihan of the Samahang Plaridel, Lagon noted the current rotating brownouts that Iloilo City is suffering is a result of More Electric and Power Company’s (MORE) lack of proper facilities.
“Ang concern ko lang talaga is yung mga consumers ng Iloilo, na sana hindi sila ma-apektuhan, lalo na ngayong pandemic. Ang problema ko talaga kasi is yung mga long brownouts na nangyayari,” Lagon noted.
“Before kasi nung si PECO (Panay Electric Company) nag-operate diyan, hindi naman talaga na-experience ng mga tao ng Iloilo City ang mga ganitong brownouts. Kung umasa lang sila kay MORE sa ngayon, since wala pang kumpletong facilities si MORE, talagang hindi maiwasan na magkaroon ng mga brownout sa Iloilo City,” he added.
In the history of the country’s power sector, it is the first time that the power distribution facilities of a private company have been forcefully taken by another private entity that is only armed with a public utility franchise issued by Congress.
“Dumaan naman sa due process. Pero sabihin na nating hilaw,” stressed Lagon.
The assets being used for electricity distribution in Iloilo City remains under the rightful ownership of PECO, but its franchise expired in January 2019.
By preference, Congress had instead granted a 25-year franchise to MORE. The subsequent writ of possession and operating license granted to it by authorities warranted the takeover by MORE of the electricity distribution in Iloilo City even without putting up its own facilities.
Lagon acknowledged that the new power distributor appears to lack the technical expertise in operating a power distribution system – a key requirement according to industry sources because power distribution is a business imbued with the public interest.
“There is a need for the House of Representatives to look into this to ensure that the supply of electricity in Iloilo City will not be affected and that the people of Iloilo City shall not suffer because of the legal battle between the two distribution utilities,” Lagon said.
The latest incident of power interruptions that tormented Iloilo City consumers was the 13-hour rotating brownouts on May 17 due to maintenance works at a substation undertaken by MORE, an activity done on the peak of a summer month and while the country is at the height of battling a pandemic and people are required to stay at home.
Philreca party-list Rep. Presley De Jesus, for his part, expressed dismay over the unusually long brownout in Iloilo.
“A 13-hour brownout is not acceptable, especially since we are in a crisis ngayon,” he said.
“Some big private investors seem to want to take over the power industry which may adversely affect the small electric cooperatives in the country. We the need to protect electric cooperatives from being taken over by private investors branded as ‘electric coop killers’ who are only after profits and not the welfare of cooperative members and the cooperatives’ customers,” he added.
Legal cases are pending in the courts on the expropriation proceedings relating to the power distribution assets of PECO.