The Manila police barricaded the street fronting the Supreme Court yesterday morning to stop a group rooting for the almost century-old utility firm Panay Electric Co. whose case questioning its loss of its operation of the electricity distribution business after the expiration of its franchise in January 2019.
Manila Police Department Station 5 commander Lt. Col. Ariel Caramoan said the police were deployed to protect the Supreme Court from the rallyists under the omnibus guidelines issued by the national government during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fifty-five police personnel from MPD’s Station 5 said any gathering by any group is prohibited by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Managing Emerging Infectious Diseases while community quarantine is in effect.
Any violators of the ongoing prohibition on mass gathering and failure to comply with physical distancing rules could be arrested and jailed for illegal assembly under the Revised Penal Code, Caramoan said.
The group identified as the Ilonggo Consumers Movement had sent an invitation to the media to provide coverage to their protest action before the Supreme Court, according to Tuesday Calma, who identified herself as coordinator of the group.
Calma said they wanted to protest the loss of control by PECO of the operations of the electricity distribution system in Iloilo City and wanted to rally the SC to act on a case questioning the constitutionality of Congress’ granting of the franchise to another company.
She said her group decided to cancel its rally and proceed to the nearby Max’s Restaurant instead to hold a media conference.
“The guard in the Supreme Court gate forbid us from holding any protest action which the police confirmed. They asked us to leave so we left,” Calma said.
Calma admitted that while she and her companions were protesting the issue in Iloilo City, they really do not reside in Iloilo City and live instead in Manila.
She denied they were connected with PECO, although she admitted they were holding the protest action to press the Supreme Court to act soon on the case filed by PECO against the new Iloilo City distribution utility More Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power).
The Energy Regulatory Commission has cancelled PECO’s provision Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity after MORE Power took control of the operations of the city’s distribution system when the local regional trial court concurred with the expropriation case filed by the new utility against PECO.
MORE Power secured the franchise from Congress after the two chambers refused to act on PECO’s application for the renewal of its franchise in view of the huge number of complaints from Iloilo consumers on the bad quality of service provided to consumers, the high rates it charged and the numerous incidents of overbilling that remain unpaid until now.
Aside from Calma, only three other members of the Iloilo Consumers Group faced the media during the press conference where they gave out press releases and posed for media photographers while holding a placard with the slogan “No to More Power in Iloilo.”
Manila Mayor Isko Moreno said the group is welcome in Manila but not to hold any mass action since it is prohibited during the COVID-19 pandemic health emergency.
"They are all welcome in Manila at any given time, my only request is don’t do any protest action now because we will implement what we have to do, and I hope this will be a fair warning. If protesters conduct gatherings and violate policies, then we will have to do his job to protect Manilenyos,” Moreno told media.
MPD Director General Rolando Miranda said the police will follow the directive of the government to prohibit any mass gatherings to protect the public from and contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus.