END OF AN ERA? Expropriation hearing vs PECO’s assets to proceed

These disorganized and therefore hazardous power lines of Panay Electric Co. (PECO) are a familiar sight in Iloilo City. These and PECO’s other serviceable power distribution assets all costs P481,842,450, a price More Electric and Power Corp. is willing to pay to distribute power in the metro. PN FILE

ILOILO City – The Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 37 denied Panay Electric Co.’s (PECO) urgent motion to suspend the hearing on the application for a writ of possession filed by More Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power) over the former’s serviceable power distribution assets.

“This is something positive because at least we know a hearing on our application for the writ of possession can proceed,” said MORE Power president Roel Castro.

The RTC decision was issued last May 24. Presiding Judge Marie Yvette Go of RTC Branch 37 ordered for the expropriation hearing to be set “on a date available in the court calendar of the pairing judge in view of the official leave of absence of the presiding judge.”

It was still unclear as of this writing who is the pairing judge.

According to Go, electricity is a “basic necessity and vested with public interest,” which is why the hearing must proceed with dispatch.

MORE Power acquired its franchise to “establish, operate, and maintain, for commercial purposes and in the public interest, a distribution system for the conveyance of electric power to end users in Iloilo City” when President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act (RA) 11212 in February this year.

The granting of the franchise to MORE Power came after PECO’s franchise expired mid-January.

PECO was still allowed to operate since MORE Power has yet to acquire a distribution system of its own.

Consequently, PECO was granted a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) – a working permit or operating license required of power distributors – to cover the transition period. The CPCN expired on May 25.

Energy Regulatory Commission chairperson Agnes Devanadera earlier said the issuance of the CPCN to PECO does not mean extending its franchise.

It was meant “to ensure uninterrupted supply of electricity in Iloilo City,” an ERC decision contained in a May 21, 2019 order said.

MORE Power asked the court to issue the writ of possession authorizing it to take immediate control, operation, use, and disposition of PECO’s power distribution system assets in March this year.

It also petitioned to determine the reasonable value of PECO’s power distribution assets (real and personal properties), which was later assessed to amount to P481,842,450.

PECO filed the urgent motion to suspend the expropriation proceeding pending the decision of RTC Branch 209 in Mandaluyong City over its petition filed on March 6, which questioned the constitutionality of MORE Power’s franchise.

MORE Power countered this. It asserted that RA 11212 must be observed notwithstanding the argument raised by PECO regarding the pendency of its motion for suspension.

Go sided with MORE Power, saying that the court “cannot agree with the PECO’s contention that the motion to suspend proceedings includes all other incidents. The gist of the motion to suspend proceedings is on the prejudicial question the defendant asserts insofar as certain provisions of RA 11212 are concerned.”/PN


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