By Danessa Rivera – November 19, 2018 – 12:00am
from The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Energy (DOE) and Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) are ensuring that power service will continue in Iloilo City amid the transition to a new distribution utility by next year.
Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said the agency is studying possible moves to prevent a citywide blackout when the franchise of the controversial utility firm Panay Electric Co. (PECO) expires on Jan. 19, 2019.
“Service must continue regardless,” Cusi said.
The ERC, meanwhile, said it is in talks with government agencies to allow continued power service in PECO’s franchise area.
“We are coordinating/cooperating with all other government agencies involved in exerting best efforts to make sure that there will be no interruption of supply in Iloilo,” ERC spokesperson Floresinda Digal said.
Recently, Congress awarded More Power and Electric Co. a legislative franchise to operate a distribution utility for Iloilo City.
More Power, owned by billionaire businessman Enrique Razon Jr., has provided the new utility firm a P2-billion capitalization to improve the distribution service in Iloilo.
Meanwhile, the franchise renewal bill of PECO—which has been in the business for 95 years—is still pending in Congress due to objections of Iloilo residents and the city council.
The protest against PECO’s new franchise is backed up by a petition signed by over 25,000 Iloilo city residents and a concurrent Iloilo City Council resolution, with complaints ranging from overpricing to lousy service and obsolete facilities.
There were also reports that PECO is threatening to shut down its operations upon the expiration of its franchise on Jan 19.
In a Senate committee on public services hearing last Oct. 22, senators discovered that PECO had been operating in the past 24 years without a legislative franchise, a clear violation of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA).
Iloilo City councilor Joshua Alim, one of those who led the organized opposition to the renewal of PECO’s franchise, said PECO is simply blackmailing Congress and Malacanang into giving it a new franchise with its threat to plunge Iloilo into darkness.
PECO legal counsel Inocencio Ferrer, in a series of media interviews, said Iloilo residents should blame the House and the Senate if the city is plunged into darkness when PECO stops operating in Jan. 19 when its franchise expires.
Ferrer also insisted PECO will not sell its assets to More Power and would explore all legal means to prevent expropriation of its distribution lines and systems.
Alim said Ferrer’s combative stance shows the desperation on the part of PECO because it could no longer secure the new franchise from Congress.
“No one here in Iloilo City is scared by PECO’s threat because the government through the DOE and the ERC, as a last resort, could take over the facilities of PECO by virtue of their oversight and eminent domain powers,” Alim said.
Last Nov. 8, a technical working group was convened by the Senate to handle the transition plan between PECO and More Power.