The ERC should now intervene

LET US commend the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) for denying its alleged hand in organizing the “PECO ERC Press Con” held in Makati City on Nov. 14.

What was PECO trying to prove when it “projected” the event as such on the white board?

ERC chairperson Agnes Devanadera fumed in reaction, “The ERC has no participation in any manner in the said press conference.”

Obviously, PECO had dragged ERC in a “misinformation” aimed at legitimizing its claim that the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) had erred in blaming the power distributor for the frequency of pole fires in Iloilo City.

Whom should we believe? PECO’s administrative manager Marcelo Cacho, or BFP-Iloilo’s Chief Inspector Christopher Regencia?

Cacho questioned the fire marshal’s opinion, stressing that telephone and cable-TV wires are also attached to PECO’s poles.

But Regencia debunked that allegation, clarifying that telephone and cable TV wires, being of low voltage (24 volts), could not produce fire.

“Only electricity wires, either damaged or overloaded, can cause fires and not telephone or cable TV wires,” he said.

ERC chairperson Agnes Devanadera, however, has a more urgent task than dissociate her office from PECO.  It’s to “level up” – to quote Mayor Jerry Treñas – to its mandate as an independent, quasi-judicial body regulating the electricity industry.

She ought to have known by now that residential and commercial power users in the city are more perturbed by the thought of one day waking up with none of their appliances but transistor radio working.

This writer echoed this concern to Cong. Julienne “Jam-jam” Baronda the other day. She promised to beg of the ERC chair to settle the “power struggle” between PECO and MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power).

Due to its deafening silence on the matter in the past, the ERC looked more interested in “rescuing” PECO than in facilitating the entry of MORE Power as the new 25-year power-distribution franchisee in Iloilo City.  ERC has virtually extended PECO’S franchise by granting it a provisional certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN).

Under Republic Act 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, alleging that the law’s provision expropriating the distribution system is “unconstitutional.”

“I have already written a letter to Secretary Alfonso Cusi,” Baronda said, referring to the head of the Department of Energy, “about the series of power outages that hit the city recently.”

Incidentally, the congresswoman owns a commercial ice plant that literally and financially “melts” with each brownout.

“We need to know the real situation,” Baronda warned. “It is critical and crucial.”

Should it find PECO negligent in maintenance work, the ERC may withdraw PECO’s CPCN. But this could only be advisable whenever a Court of law issues a writ of possession effecting its expropriation by MORE Power.

Unfortunately, the Regional Trial Court judge handling the case has inhibited himself and no one has taken over yet.

As regards the constitutionality issue, why bother when any law – in this case RA 11212 – is presumed implementable unless repealed by Congress or nullified by the Supreme Court?  

Moreover, there is the power “bible” known as EPIRA (acronym for “Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001”), Section 23 of which specifically provides, “Distribution utilities may exercise the power of eminent domain [expropriation vested with public interest] subject to the requirements of the Constitution and existing laws.”

That’s clear enough, unless PECO is merely out to delay “the end”. ([email protected]/PN)

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