By: Emme Rose Santiagudo and Francis Allan L. Angelo
THE power franchise tug-of-war in Iloilo City is not yet over.
Panay Electric Co. (PECO) did not show up at the meeting of a technical working group (TWG) that will handle the transition works between PECO and MORE Electric and Power Co. which is poised to take over power distribution services in the city.
The Senate Committee on Public Services chaired by Senator Grace Poe spearheaded the TWG meeting.
Aside from MORE Power’s representative, also present in the meeting were Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, officials of the Department of Energy (DOE) and Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), Iloilo Economic Development Foundation head Narzalina Lim, and Ted Aldwin Ong of the Freedom from Debt Coalition.
Councilors Joshua Alim and Plaridel Nava were also present upon invitation of the TWG while Councilor R Leoni Gerochi represented Iloilo City Mayor Jose Espinosa III.
The TWG was formed after the Senate committee on Oct 18, 2018 approved the franchise application of PECO’s rival firm and competitor, MORE Electric and Power Co.
PECO’s franchise renewal application is still pending in the House of Representatives.
Atty. Angelo Buenviaje Jr., Senator Poe’s chief of staff who presided in the meeting, said he is saddened by PECO’s absence from the meeting.
Victorino said PECO already assured its cooperation with the TWG. The meeting was also a venue to hear out PECO’s concern to ensure a smooth transition between the two distribution utilities.
MORE Power President and CEO Roel Castro said they are willing to reach out to PECO to find out their concerns and how to implement a seamless and smooth transition.
During the meeting, transitory clauses for MORE Power’s franchise were discussed, including the provision of ample time for PECO to wrap up its operations and give way to the new distributor.
The ERC initially wanted to give PECO a maximum of two years for the transition but it might be whittled down to a shorter period.
ERC officials also told MORE Power that it can already apply for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) which is a requirement for power distributors.
The CPCN, however, will only be issued after President Rodrigo Duterte has signed MORE Power’s franchise.
Meanwhile, Alim and Nava raised consumer-related issues such as refund of meter deposits from PECO, promissory notes signed by consumers as payment for their purported arrears, and erroneous billing issues.
The TWG assured that it will consider the issues raised by the two councilors.
MORE Power said Ilonggos do not owe their company, thus they will not charge the supposed arrears.
What if PECO refuses to budge?
Alim said the power of eminent domain in MORE Power’s franchise will take effect which means expropriation proceedings of PECO’s facilities will start. PECO, however, is entitled to just compensation of its assets.
NOT FOR SALE
PECO legal counsel Inocencio Ferrer said they would never sell their assets to a competitor.
“I’m telling the franchise committee chairman and members that PECO will never sell its assets to a competitor,” Ferrer stressed.
Ferrer also questioned the hasty franchise approval of a mining company, referring to MORE Power.
“Gin-approve nila ang franchise sang isa ka mining company. Diin ang rule of law diri? Ngaa i-question namon kay kadasig-dasig sang ila approval sang franchise sa Lower House. Tani gin-invite man ang mga stakeholders para makuha man ang ila mga comments and opinions,” he lamented.
He also raised the MORE Power’s “zero experience” on electrical power distribution and its zero audited financial statements.
“Magkano kinita nila sa electric operations nila? Zero. Anong financial statement nila today? Zero. They will use the power of the government to confiscate the existing franchise of PECO,” Ferrer said.
But Castro said MORE Power “is technically and financially capable to distribute power in Iloilo City”.
Castro said their financial resources are also stable what with its P2-billion capital.
“Its mother company, Monte Oro Resources and Energy Inc. (MORE), is owned by businessman Enrique K. Razon, is the same company that took part in the privatization of the National Transmission Corporation,” he added.
While PECO’s application for renewal is still pending in the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, Ferrer emphasized that they will not back down despite the approval of MORE Power’s franchise.
“Kung makakuha kamo inyo franchise, mabato kami ya. We will go to the Supreme Court and we will apply all the legal remedies granted to PECO,” Ferrer emphasized.
As regards their absence from the TWG meeting, Ferrer said PECO has no role in the group.
“I don’t know what they are talking about sa technical working group and although PECO was invited pero ano amon role dira. Wala man kami role dira, ngaa makadto kami dira? Indi man ni amon bill,” Ferrer said.