‘PUBLIC SAFETY HAZARD’: ERC investigates pole fires in Iloilo City

An electric pole of Panay Electric Co. catches fire in Iloilo City. In its report to the Energy Regulatory Commission, the Bureau of Fire Protection stated that from Oct. 1 to 27, 2019 alone, there were 12 incidents of pole fires in the city.

ILOILO City – The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has started investigating the complaint of Mayor Jerry Treñas on the possible threat to public safety of “inadequately-maintained lines, power outages and hazardous electric posts” owned by franchise-less Panay Electric Co. (PECO). It conducted a hearing last week and received a briefing from the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP).

PECO continues to be the power distributor in Iloilo City by virtue of a provisional Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) issued by ERC as provided in the franchise of MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power) as new power distributor to ensure uninterrupted service to consumers during the two-year transition period.

Treñas asked the Office of the President to address the mounting complaints against PECO, citing seven fire incidents involving its electricity poles from Oct. 19 to 21 alone based on BFP’s report to the Iloilo City Hall.

“Due to the worsening turn of events, the undersigned is obliged to take the necessary steps to address the needs of the people considering that the problems and complaints raised against PECO have a direct impact not only on the property but also on the lives of the residents of Iloilo City,” Treñas stated in his complaint.

“While the attention of PECO had been repeatedly called [by the Office of the City Mayor] to address the [complaints,] the city is still plagued by the same problems,” the mayor added.

Treñas said ERC is the appropriate agency to handle consumers’ complaints against PECO because it has disciplinary powers.


In its report submitted to Treñas and ERC, BFP stated that from Oct. 1 to 27 alone, there were 12 incidents of pole fires.

From January to Oct. 27 of this year, BFP recorded 200 incidents of pole fires in the city.

In 2016, there were 453 reported fire incidents, 360 of which were caused by faulty electrical connections and 303 of pole fires. 

In 2017, there were 361 fires caused by faulty electrical connections and 275 pole fires. 

In 2018, 301 fires were caused by faulty electrical connections and 233 are pole fires, and as of Oct. 27, 2019, there were already 253 fire incidents caused by faulty electrical connections and 200 pole fires. That is an average of 28 fire incidents caused by faulty electrical connections per month.
According to the BFP, the reasons for these incidents were dilapidated and ageing wooden poles and electrical wires and overloaded transformers of the 95 years old power utility PECO.

The tolerance of illegal connections or “jumper” is also a culprit to the fires caused by faulty electrical connections, it added.
In the ERC hearing, BFP clarified that only electrical cables could cause fires and not telephone or cable TV wires, contrary to PECO’s justification.


Franchise holder MORE Power said in a statement, “With the almost simultaneous electric pole fires in the city, the question that should be asked is: Why are we not surprised?”

Perhaps the reason why the recent fires were getting more attention than the fires in the past few years was the fact that Ilonggos no longer have to make do with PECO’s inept services, MORE Power added.

“We no longer have to accept these fires as a typical occurrence around the city. We now have an option. There is a new distribution utility looming to take over to deliver what PECO failed to provide its consumers — better customer relations, adequately maintained lines, adequate investment in distribution facilities, less distributor-related power outages, prompt restoration of power services, and MOREKOREK billings,” stressed MORE Power.

It lamented the insinuations of PECO as answer to these fire incidents, “It is amusing that PECO’s head of Public Engagement and Government Affairs, Marcelo Cacho, said he was ‘indignant for the people of Iloilo’ and was wondering if there is something happening behind the scenes, a sabotage, so to speak.”

“A quick tour around the city would reveal spaghetti lines, lopsided poles, and electric meters stuck in electric poles from top to bottom which frankly trigger trypophobia. A picture of disaster waiting to happen,” MORE Power stressed.

It added: “There is no mystery whether something is happening behind the scenes — decay is happening. Anything not maintained and rehabilitated will naturally go into decline over time. When did PECO actually spend for expansion and upgrades not only to accommodate the growing power needs of the city but to improve its services to the ordinary Ilonggo?”

Instead of pointing fingers and spewing conspiracy theories, PECO should take a hard look at itself and start asking the real hard question, “Are they now reaping what they sowed?”, MORE Power further said.

PECO’s franchise expired on Jan. 19, 2019 and was not granted another one by Congress due to numerous consumer complaints arising from its ageing distribution system, including leaning electric poles, spaghetti-like hanging electricity lines, overbilling and unprofessional handling of consumer complaints.

PECO filed several court cases against MORE Power’s expropriation of its distribution assets. The new distribution utility aims to take over the system and implement a P1.7-billion improvement and rehabilitation within five years./PN


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