House panel probe on Iloilo brownouts pushed

AS consumers in Iloilo City had been troubled by frequent power interruptions since the forcible takeover of the power distribution utility servicing the area last March, an investigation by the House committee on energy is being pushed to determine how the dispute on electricity service provision in the city has been aggravating predicaments of the consuming public.

Under House Resolution (HR) 785 filed by Ako Bisaya party-list Rep. Sonny Lagon, he urged Congress to probe “the status of the distribution of electricity in Iloilo City to ensure that power distribution will not cease and that the people of Iloilo will not be affected.”

During Friday’s Virtual Kapihan ng Samahang Plaridel hosted by Manila Standard’s Joyce Pañares, Lagon noted that the current rotating brownouts that Iloilo City is suffering is a result of More Electric and Power Company’s (MORE) lack of proper facilities.

“Palagi po ang brownout sa Iloilo City dahil po sa nangyari sa PECO and MORE...nung nakaraan po, 13 hours. Kawawa po ang mga consumer, lalo na po nasa loob ng bahay ang buong pamilya dahil sa COVID-19,” said Lagon.

“Nagkakaroon po ng short circuit eh, tapos tinatransfer from one transformer to another. Before po nung MORE, wala pa namang nangyayaring ganito. Ang alam ko po, kulang pa sa facilities ang MORE, kaya sana po pagtulungan ni PECO at MORE ang sitwasyon para hindi maapektuhan ang mga consumers,” Lagon added.

“Ang concern ko lang talaga is yung mga consumers ng Iloilo, na sana hindi sila ma-apektuhan, lalo na ngayong pandemic. Ang problema ko talaga kasi is ‘yung mga long brownouts na nangyayari,” Lagon noted. “Before kasi noong PECO (Panay Electric Company) ang nag-o-operate diyan, hindi naman talaga na-experience ng mga tao ng Iloilo City ang mga ganitong brownouts.”

“Kung umasa lang sila kay MORE sa ngayon, since wala pang kumpletong facilities si MORE, talagang hindi maiwasan na magkaroon ng mga brownout sa Iloilo City,” he added.

In the history of the Philippine power sector, it is the first time that the power distribution facilities of a private company have been forcefully taken by another private entity that is only armed with a public utility franchise issued by Congress.

“Dumaan naman sa due process. Pero sabihin na nating hilaw,” stressed Lagon, adding he is not siding with any party.

“Nagtake-over po sila eh, kaya't sana i-address nila ang problema. Simula po kasi noon, marami nang problemang nangyayari,” said Lagon. “Wala po akong kinakampihan, pero since you took over, dapat hindi ito nangyayari na parating brownout. Parang…hilaw eh.”

The assets being used for electricity distribution in Iloilo City remains under the rightful ownership of PECO, but its franchise expired in January 2019.

By preference, Congress had instead granted a 25-year franchise to MORE Power and Electric Corporation.

The subsequent writ of possession and operating license granted to it by authorities warranted the takeover by MORE of the electricity distribution in Iloilo City even without putting up its own facilities, besides its apparent lack of track record and technical expertise in operating a power distribution system, and as noted by industry sources, that should have been a key requirement because power distribution is a business imbued with public interest.

Lagon said, “There is a need for the House of Representatives to look into this to ensure that the supply of electricity in Iloilo City will not be affected and that the people of Iloilo City shall not suffer because of the legal battle between the two distribution utilities.”

The latest incident of power interruptions that tormented Iloilo City consumers was the 13-hour rotating brownouts this month (May 17) due to maintenance works at a substation undertaken by MORE, an activity done on the peak of a summer month and while the country is at the height of battling a pandemic and people are required to stay at home.

Philreca party-list Rep. Presley De Jesus noted that the nation's power supply is enough right now due to the decreased commercial use of electricity. When asked about unusually long brownout in Iloilo, he responded with dismay.

“A 13-hour brownout is not acceptable, especially since we are in a crisis ngayon,” he said.

“Some big private investors seem to want to take over the power industry which may adversely affect the small electric cooperatives in the country,” he added. “We the need to protect electric cooperatives from being taken over by private investors branded as ‘electric coop killers’ who are only after profits and not the welfare of cooperative members and the cooperatives’ customers.”

Before this episode of power outages in the area, there were also reports of electricity service interruptions that tortured and enraged Iloilo City consumers in March and April.

Prompted by that, Representative Lagon sought an immediate investigation in aid of legislation “to ensure that the people of Iloilo City shall not suffer and that electricity shall continue to be distributed to them despite the legal battle between PECO and MORE, and to come out with the necessary legislation for this purpose.”

Legal cases are pending in the courts on the expropriation proceedings relating to the power distribution assets of PECO.