ILOILO City – The Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 209 in Mandaluyong City has issued a 20-day temporary restraining order (TRO) stopping More Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power) from, among others, commencing expropriation proceedings against Panay Electric Co.’s (PECO) power distribution assets.
On March 6 PECO filed a petition for declaratory relief with application for a TRO and/or writ of preliminary injunction against MORE Power and all government agencies tasked to implement Republic Act (RA) 11212 which is MORE Power’s franchise law.
The court issued the TRO on March 12.
The TRO stops MORE Power from taking over PECO’s distribution assets and also halts the Department of Energy and/or Energy Regulatory Commission from issuing a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) or provisional authority or any other permits or licenses for MORE Power to operate in Iloilo City, or if one had already been issued, suspends the same pending the resolution of the case.
“If the CPCN were to be granted, this will give rise to a situation where two electrical companies are operating in the same franchise area since PECO has the transitory authority to operate for two more years under RA 11212,” read part of RTC 209’s resolution granting the TRO.
In issuing the TRO, Presiding Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio ruled that PECO established that two provisions of RA 11212 “will materially and substantially invade its rights to equal protection under the law, due process, and against unlawful taking of property.”
“We will respect the decision of the court,” said MORE Power president Roel Castro yesterday.
PECO told the court that MORE Power can easily take away, under the guise of eminent domain, its distribution assets – poles, wires, cables, transformers, switching equipment, stations, etc. – under sections 10 and 17 of the franchise law.
MORE Power’s 25-year power distribution franchise in Iloilo City was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on Feb. 14, 2019.
PECO’s franchise, on the other hand, expired on Jan. 19, 2019, ending its over 95 years of operation in Iloilo City.
The TRO will take effect within five days from PECO’s posting of a P5-million bond.
RTC Branch 209 set the hearing for PECO’s application for a writ of preliminary injunction on April 2.
“That is the next step nga ginalagas namon. The moment we secure an injunction, that means ang MORE Power franchise bill on-hold na while the court is deliberating on its constitutionality,” said Marcelo Cacho, PECO administrative manager.
Just this Monday, March 11, MORE Power filed a petition at the RTC in Iloilo City for the expropriation of PECO’s power distribution assets. It asked the court to issue with a writ of possession authorizing it to take immediate control, operation, use, and disposition of these assets.
“This only serves to bolster the urgency of issuing a TRO considering that Section 10 of RA 11212 authorizes respondent MORE Power to take immediate possession of petitioner PECO’s distribution assets after filing of expropriation proceedings, due notice, and deposit of the assessed value of the assets in question,” read part of RTC Branch 209’s resolution.
It also stressed that MORE Power’s filing of a complaint for expropriation did not render PECO’s petition moot.
The expropriation of PECO’s assets in its favor, according to MORE Power, would allow it to “immediately address and correct poor services, overcharging, frequent brownouts, expensive rates, old and unsafe facilities and practices, and other service deficiencies that this city’s power users and consumers had long suffered.”
The city’s new power distributor also petitioned the court to determine the reasonable value of PECO’s power distribution system assets for just compensation, then order the transfer of the ownership of these upon payment.
By MORE Power’s own estimate, PECO’s power distribution system is valued at P481,842,450 – way below PECO’s previous claim that its assets are worth at least P2 billion.
“Plaintiff is ready, willing and able to deposit the amount – in a bank that the Honorable Court will designate,” read part of MORE Power’s petition.
According to PECO, MORE Power’s franchise amounted to an arbitrary and confiscatory “takeover” of its assets. It claimed that MORE, an entity allegedly without any assets, facilities or equipment will effectively be allowed to own PECO’s entire distribution system./PN