With the Supreme Court set to decide on the legal issue between the two distribution utilities, franchise holder More Electric and Power Corp. and former distributor Panay Electric Co., electric consumers of Iloilo City, led by the city’s biggest transport cooperative, are calling on the High Court to take into consideration the plight of the 65,000 power consumers in the city who will be directly affected by its decision.

More Power holds the legislative franchise to operate the electricity distribution system of Iloilo City. It was also granted a business permit by the Iloilo City government and Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (from the Energy Regulatory Commission).

Despite these, PECO continues to question the takeover of its business operations, saying it was unconstitutional.

According to Halley Alcarde, General Manager of Western Visayas Transport Cooperative, More Power has proven itself capable of managing the distribution system of Iloilo City even if it has only been in operation for six months.

Alcarde claims that compared to PECO’s operations which lasted for several decades, consumers have experienced better, more reliable and efficient services from More Power in the past six months.

Though acknowledging the SC would have to eventually decide based on the rule of law, Alcarde says they are hoping the magistrates can also consider the appeal of the consumer and prioritize it and really look at the situation in Iloilo City and the huge difference in power supply in Iloilo. Further, even More Power’s social media accounts would show the real sentiment of the public, specially how satisfied the consumers are with its services.

While the city is still experiencing brownouts, the transport leader says those are scheduled power interruptions. The public is given an advisory on when it will be resolved. This is so unlike the situation with the previous distributor, where consumers were not informed about how long the brownouts would be or how soon power would be restored.

Francis Gentoral, Executive Director of the Iloilo Economic Development Foundation, Inc., says that More Power has a strong sense of accountability and transparency by providing the right service to consumers even though they are still in the transition phase.

Gentoral said IEDF, which has been actively wooing investors to Iloilo City, said they have noted a marked improvement in the status of power supply under More Power.

Gentoral said investors are now optimistic about Iloilo City, unlike during the time of PECO when some investors decided not to pursue their investments due to unreliable power supply.

As facilities for power distribution in Iloilo City have remained antiquated, More Power president Roel Castro earlier said it would take three years to modernize Iloilo City’s distribution system. To do this, the company has committed a capital expenditure of P1.8 billion.

Castro said the company has already started with its modernization program by fixing the dilapidated systems of PECO.

More Power continued with its system upgrades even during the COVID pandemic. It has since upgraded 100 distribution transformers, replaced 100 electric poles and fixed 97 hotspot connectors, replaced switchboards at transformers in all five substations and replaced electric meters of around 15,000 residents.

Based on the technical study conducted by Miescor Engineering Services Corp., PECO manually operated most of its facilities which were completed during the 1960s. They are outdated and could cause fires. These outdated facilities caused the capacity load of power substations to go up to 90 percent when it should have been at 70 percent only.

Aside from the consumer groups, several multi-sectoral groups also expressed support for More Power, including those from the religious, teachers and the transport sectors. 

“From visibility, transparency, rapid response, courteous personnel, to leading a transformational impact in the campaign to rid Iloilo City of power thefts, the new utility distributor is creating change,” said Pastor Nestor Gonzales, another leader representing the religious groups.

While transport leader Alcarde readily accepts the fact the SC, at the end of the day, would have to rely on what is provided for by the law in deciding the case, they also are in the right position to appeal before the High Court to take into consideration the interest of the people who would be affected by its decision.

Peco losing its battle

Panay Electric Co. has already ceased to be Iloilo’s power distribution utility after Congress refused to extend its franchise and instead grant a congressional franchise to More Power. However, PECO has refused to accept defeat and has embarked on a legal battle to regain the right to distribute power in Iloilo.

Unfortunately for PECO, it appears to be losing its battle even in the legal front. This was after the Department of Justice dismissed the charges it had filed against the group behind the “No to PECO Franchise Renewal.”

In a decision recently penned by DOJ Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento, charges of conspiracy and falsification of public documents filed by PECO against its critics was “dismissed for utter lack of merit” clearing the respondents composed of lawyers Joshua Alim and Plaridel Nava II along with Dr. Marigold Gonzales and Jane Javellana.

The dismissal is contained in a joint resolution signed by Malcontento along with DOJ State Prosecutor Gilmarie Fe Pacamarra and Senior State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon.

In dismissing the case, the three state prosecutors stated in a document obtained by Iloilo News that they found all the respondents not liable to the charges noting “it is clear as the day that the respondents did not falsify any document.”

The DOJ officials also noted that lawyers Alim and Nava, who were Iloilo City councilors during that time, did not violate any provision of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (RA 3019) accused them of by PECO.

Recall that PECO charged the respondents over the consumer’ manifesto which circulated against PECO, the same manifesto which was submitted in Congress while it was bidding for the renewal of its franchise.

PECO claimed the manifesto, which was signed by 27,000 persons, was falsified and was used in favor of another applicant referring to More Power.

The former power distributor also charged lawyers Alim and Nava for violating RA3019 “because they were both public officers, being incumbent members of the Sangguniang Panglungsod at that time.”

The duo, in their counter affidavit, said that their action against PECO was in the behest of their role as public officials to act on complaints by the consumers on issues of overbilling, billing without reading, inefficient services, including abuses and arrogance of its employees, among others.

For their part, Gonzales and Javellana were charged for allegedly conspiring with the two lawyers and made it appear that the 27,000 signatories to the petition were legitimate, which PECO claimed as “fictitious and untruthful.”

PECO used to operate the city’s distribution system for more than 90 years, but its franchise expired last year. But while its application for a new franchise was denied by Congress, it granted MORE Power the franchise to operate the distribution system to ensure continuous and uninterrupted supply of electricity in the city.

The franchise mandated MORE Power to modify, improve, upgrade, and change the distribution facilities, systems, or the management and maintenance of the distribution facility and to continuously improve its facilities and employ the latest technology and innovations that promote efficiency and is beneficial to consumers.

Elated with the DoJ’s decision, Alim, who is now a full-time advocate after taking a breather from politics, said that “justice has prevailed.”

For his part, Nava said the victory was not only theirs but a victory as well for “all consumers who fought hard against the oppressive PECO.”

Javellana, who is now the Presidential Consultant for Western Visayas, said that PECO’s charges were aimed not only to humiliate but to harass them.

PECO has already been deposed as Iloilo’s power distributor and we could only expect it to exhaust all legal means to regain it. The DoJ decision might be only one victory for those who are opposing PECO. There is still the petition filed by PECO pending before the Supreme Court. But for PECO’s oppositors, a victory still spells victory and could never be sweeter as they see the total end nearing for the former power distribution utility.