"May the truth be outed, wherever it may lead."
Something peculiar seems to be going on with the Panay Electric Corporation (PECO), which supplies power to the citizens of Iloilo.
It may be recalled that rural electrical coops like PECO, together with other power distribution utilities, can operate only under a congressional franchise. Once granted, these franchisees are regulated by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), which ensures that these utilities comply with the law and their mandate to provide consumers with fairly priced, continuous, safea and reliable supply of electric power.
Unfortunately for PECO, its franchise wasn’t renewed prior to its expiry in January last year. Instead, Congress decided to grant the franchise to another company, More Electric and Power Corp (MORE Power). PECO thereupon challenged the decision in the Supreme Court, citing, among others, its long history of distributing power in Iloilo City for nearly a century.
Its fate was similar to what happened to ABS-CBN, the crown jewel of the Lopez family, and here is where the irony begins. The majority of PECO is owned by the Cacho family, one of the richest families in Iloilo where the Lopezes also hail from. But a substantial minority, 30 percent, is also owned by the Lopez family, in exchange for the Cachos acquiring shares of ABS-CBN.
Longevity in business, as well as market dominance, have been cited by both families as a good policy reason for keeping their respective franchises. Whether this reasoning is proper is what the Supreme Court must now rule upon.
* * *
The latest twist in the PECO tale involves a feisty Ilonggo lawyer, Atty Zafiro Lauron, who’s now looking into a tip from another columnist (not in this paper) that the Cacho family—as well as PECO itself-- put up three paper companies in the Bahamas, where the world’s rich stash their money in tax havens like the British Virgin Islands.
The three paper companies were named Costa Group Investments Ltd (registered in April 2000), Prime Rose Technology (September 2000), and Mega International Services (Oct 2000). All of them have post office box addresses in the British Virgin Islands.
This information was discovered among a trove of documents unearthed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), an international body that—in another twist of irony—includes anti-Duterte muckrakers like Malou Mangahas, Ellen Tordesillas, and the now-famous Maria Ressa.
The documents were stored in a computer drive that reached the ICIJ headquarters in London in 2013. Dubbed the “Offshore Leaks Papers,” the drive provided details on over 122,000 offshore companies or trusts, nearly 12,000 intermediaries (agents or “introducers”), and some 130,000 records on the people and agents who run, own, benefit from, or hide behind these offshore companies.
Expectedly, the Cachos and PECO have vehemently denied these charges, with Lauron himself being threatened with disbarment by their lawyers for taking the charges public. But Lauron, a San Beda law school graduate, insists that because a Congressional franchise is involved, “the case is imbued which public interest which I have to follow up as my civic duty.”
The presence of personalities like Maria Ressa in ICIJ ought to give us comfort that the truth will be outed wherever it may lead. That is, after all, her claim to fame.
* * *
I’m writing this piece too early to catch the President’s penultimate SONA yesterday. But let me just weigh in with a couple of attributes that I hope his speech will display:
Be Sensitive. Amidst the pervasive sentiment of gloom and doom brought about by an intractable virus and the economic costs of keeping it at bay, the Ama ng Bayan’s duty first of all is to comfort and reassure the public. Assuaging the pain and the hurt, even if only for a while, is what an otherwise helpless public wants from him. This is something he can do from the heart, in his own gruff way.
Be Decisive. But that doesn’t mean going weak in the knees, especially with all the anti-Duterte groups trying to close ranks in their bid for 2022. Nobody questions his toughness, even in his sentimental moments. What they want is paternal strictness, especially with his cut-outs and subordinates, many of whom appear to be getting away with gross mistakes for which it’s the President who ultimately pays.
Be Aspirational. In the gathering dark clouds, it’s the Ama ng Bayan’s duty to point out the silver lining, the rainbow at the end which can be difficult to discern. Restoring hope means looking beyond what can’t be done today, to what we can prepare today to accomplish tomorrow. Here I can’t resist yet another plug for constitutional reforms, which will fortify us against the inevitable resurgence of this virus or any other future threats.
Readers can write me at [email protected]