‘WHAT ABOUT US?’ Consumers intervene in PECO expropriation case

PUBLIC HAZARD. These electrical posts at Escarilla Subdivision in Mandurriao, Iloilo City have long been leaning, according to concerned residents. They have reported this matter to Panay Electric Co. long ago but no action has been taken, they say. Meanwhile, the new power distributor in the city, More Electric and Power Corp., has vowed better service once it starts operating, and this includes fixing leaning electrical poles and broken electric meters. IAN PAUL CORDERO/PN

ILOILO City – A broad alliance here has asked the Regional Trial Court Branch 37 to prioritize the “pecuniary interests” of consumers in resolving the expropriation petition filed against Panay Electric Co. (PECO). According to i-konsumidor, consumers must be properly represented in this process because they have “a claim of higher priority and or a lien over PECO’s assets.”

The alliance filed yesterday a “Complaint in Intervention” at the court which has started hearing the application for writ of possession filed by MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power), the new power distributor here, against PECO.

The intervenors cited a November 2009 order by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) ordering PECO to refund consumers P631 million.

The implementation of the said refund – ranging between P5 million to P7 million monthly – is still ongoing and is projected to be completed in a six-month period or within the transition stage between PECO and MORE Power.

As of August 2018, the estimated remaining refundable amount was P46,657,700.35.

MORE Power asked the court to issue with a writ of possession authorizing it to take immediate control, operation, use, and disposition of PECO’s power distribution system assets. It 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 of a just compensation.

By MORE Power’s own estimate, PECO’s power distribution system is valued at P481,842,450.

But according to i-konsumidor, consumers have “a claim of higher priority and or a lien over PECO’s assets with an equivalent amount that may equal or supersede what was determined” by MORE Power.

PECO previously claimed its assets were worth at least P2 billion.

“PECO has outstanding liabilities to its consumers which requires priority for settlement,” stressed Ted Aldwin Ong, representing the Freedom from Debt Coaliton-Iloilo in i-konsumidor.

The need to determine with finality PECO’s financial obligations to its power end-users has become necessary, read part of the Complaint in Intervention, considering the expiration of PECO’s franchise and the subsequent issuance and effectivity of MORE’s franchise with the signing of Republic Act 11212.

PECO’s franchises expired on Jan. 19, 2019.

Republic Act 11212 is the 25-year legislative franchise law of MORE Power approved in February this year.

According to Ong, “the intent of our participation in the (expropriation) case is to assert the rights and protect the welfare of power end-users of Iloilo City while the two giant companies lock horns on a prolonged legal battle”.

The intervenors enumerated the following items due for refund to consumers:

* Meter Deposit

* Bill Deposit

* Trust Fund Deposit representing depreciation expense

* other overcharges by PECO to its clients, like those items which formed the contested issue of “over-billing and under-billing” lodged at the ERC

i-Konsumidor informed RTC Branch 37 it had undertaken substantial preparatory steps in anticipation of the complex legal engagement between PECO and MORE Power; it filed a “Petition for Audit, Account, and Lien on the Properties of PECO” at the ERC on Nov. 21, 2018.

According to Raymund Moderes, representing the Ilonggo Advocates for Consumers Welfare, Inc. in i-konsumidor, ERC has “yet to present a determination of the existence of the items being sought out for refund, and audit the amounts due to Iloilo City power end-users.”

“It is most respectfully prayed by the herein intervenors that the Honorable Court first determine, through the Energy Regulatory Commission, the final liability of PECO to its contracted power end-users before coming up with a decision on the expropriation case for the protection and welfare of the consumers,” read part of the Complaint in Intervention.

It highlighted Section 17 of Republic Act 11212, the provision for “Transition of Operations” from PECO to MORE Power. It mandates that ERC shall require PECO to settle the full amount which the Commission has directed to refund to customers.

“Consumers are the real assets in this issue and our stakes are far bigger than what is being expropriated. We are here to assert our role in the transition process,” stressed Moderes.

Other intervenors were Atty. Romeo Gerochi, a consumers’ welfare advocate, and Iloilo City councilor R Leone Gerochi./PN


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