Asking PECO to explain not enough

YESTERDAY’S news on the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) asking Panay Electric Co. (PECO) to “explain apparent operational lapses” was a step in the right direction and could be the beginning of a more vigorous move to edge the company out of Iloilo City where it no longer belongs.

It was ERC’s way of heeding the complaint of Mayor Jerry P. Treñas, who had written ERC chairperson Agnes Devanadera, “We have received information that multiple fires broke out all over the city of Iloilo, the causes of which were directly attributable to poorly-maintained facilities owned by PECO.”

As confirmed by Chief Inspector Christopher Regencia, the city fire marshal of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), the fires had sprung from rotting electric poles and “spaghetti” wires.

The news report quoted Devanadera, “Based on the findings of the ERC technical team that conducted the ocular inspection on the electric distribution system of PECO, the latter committed lapses in the operations and maintenance of its distribution system, thereby posing danger and risks to the lives and properties of its consumers.”

PECO’s directors and officers could be liable for administrative and criminal action based on the findings of the inspection team which showed that:

(1) PECO’s protective devises were not properly rated and designed;

(2) Some poles were found leaning and in unsafe positions; and

(3) Some meters were found to be clustered and installed in an elevated metering center without ERC approval.

But why would PECO upgrade itself? Its franchise having expired, all it has is a revocable ERC-issued provisional certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN).

PECO’S other big problem is its realty taxes, unpaid since 2006, that have ballooned to P98 million plus interest. Unless paid in full, there is no stopping Mayor Treñas from selling its assets in a public auction come Dec. 12, starting at the floor price of P106.8 million.

Why is the city trying to collect only now?

Nay, not so. In September 2016 when the unpaid amount was lower at P44.6 million, then mayor Jed Mabilog tried to collect but failed.

Why could the ERC not simply revoke PECO’s CPCN and allow the law – as approved by President Duterte on Feb. 14, 2019 yet – to take its course?

The residents and businessmen of Iloilo City – just like Mayor Treñas and Cong. Julienne “Jam-jam” Baronda – would not settle for anything less than the implementation of that law, Republic Act (RA) 11212, which would compel PECO to turn over the city’s power-distribution system to the new 25-year franchisee, MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power).

Under RA 11212, the outgoing and incoming distribution utilities are supposed to collaborate in a smooth transition period not exceeding two years. But instead of collaborating, PECO hauled MORE Power to Court on the pretext that the law’s provision expropriating the distribution system is “unconstitutional.”

It is surprising that a Regional Trial Court judge in Mandaluyong City ruled correspondingly despite the prevailing legal norm that the law as passed by Congress and approved by the President is presumed constitutional unless repealed or amended; and despite a contrary provision in an operational law, RA 9136 – the Electric Power industry Act (EPIRA) of 2001.

The last sentence of EPIRA’s Section 23 says, “Distribution utilities may exercise the power of eminent domain

subject to the requirements of the constitution and existing laws.”

To make the long story short, we just might have to wait for the Supreme Court to render the final verdict. ([email protected]/PN)

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