An injustice to power consumers

IT GOES beyond reason that a one-year-old law vested with public interest could not be implemented because of a protracted legal battle between Panay Electric Co. (PECO) and MORE Electric and Power and Corp. (MORE Power).

Alas, it’s the electricity consumers in Iloilo City who now suffer the proverbial expression “Justice delayed, justice denied.”

Republic Act 11212 – passed by Congress on Dec. 11, 2018 and approved by the President on Feb. 14, 2019 – granted MORE Power the franchise to operate as power distributor in Iloilo City for the next 25 years.

The House’s choice of MORE Power to be granted the congressional franchise had the effect of junking PECO’s petition for renewal of its own. There had been thousands of letters sent by Ilonggos complaining against padded billings, fire-prone wirings and poor public relations, among others.

The franchise of PECO expired midnight of Jan. 18-19, 2019.

The new franchise law was meant to pave a mutually beneficial turnover from PECO to MORE. But as every Ilonggo remembers, the law hit a snag due to the legal maneuver of PECO questioning the constitutionality of RA 11212 before a Regional Trial Court (RTC) in far-away Mandaluyong City.

But that’s water under the bridge. The Supreme Court has already restrained that RTC from holding the law “unconstitutional.”

However, well-meaning lawyers wonder why a duly-passed law could be derailed by an RTC to favor private interest, since only the Supreme Court is empowered to declare a law “unconstitutional”.

It is ironic that PECO questioned the constitutionality of the provision that is also beneficial to it, Section 17, which says in part:  “In the public interest and to ensure uninterrupted supply of electricity, the current operator, Panay Electric Company, Inc. (PECO), shall in the interim be authorized to operate the existing distribution system within the franchise area.”

During this transition period, which should be completed within two years, PECO could temporarily operate through a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) issued by the

Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) “until the establishment or acquisition by the grantee of its own distribution system.”

How would PECO profit from that acquisition?

Under Section 10 of RA 11212, acquisition of PECO’s equipment by MORE Power entails “just compensation” via expropriation proceedings in Court.

MORE Power, remember, has escrowed in Landbank the “just compensation” amounting to P481,842,450.

It was on March 11, 2019 yet when MORE Power petitioned the RTC-Iloilo Branch 37 for the expropriation of PECO’s assets. Since Judge Marie Yvette Go was going out on study leave, she had the case heard by her pairing judge, Judge Oliver Gelvezon.

Days after coming back, Judge Go approved MORE’s application for a writ of possession, dated Aug. 15, 2019, finding that “the deposit made by the plaintiff is equivalent to the assessed value of the properties subject of the expropriation.”

But right after issuing the order, Go inhibited herself from issuing the writ.

It fell on Judge Daniel Antonio Gerardo S. Amular of RTC Branch 35 to take over the case in November 2019, going as far as summoning resource persons from the ERC to review the escrowed “just compensation,” only to inhibit himself after two months.

Judge Ma. Theresa Gaspar of Branch 33 came up next in the raffle but she, too, declined for being personally close to people from both sides.

Comes now the fifth judge, Gloria Madero of RTC-Iloilo Branch 29. Being retriable, will she render a decision that could be her legacy to the people of Iloilo City? ([email protected]/PN)

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