Darkest Before Dawn

By Limuel S. Celebria

“It is said that the darkest hour of night comes just before the dawn” –  Thomas Fuller,  English scholar, preacher, and author.

IT WAS only in late February this year when a Regional Trial Court judge here granted More Power and Electric Corp. (MORE) a Writ of Possession (WOP) so it could take over the facilities of local power distributor Panay Electric Company (PECO) “to ensure the uninterrupted supply of electricity” in Iloilo City.

This was more than a year after Republic Act 11212, passed by Congress in December 2019, was signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte.  RA 11212 granted MORE the franchise to operate as power distributor in Iloilo City in lieu of PECO whose application for a renewal of its franchise was denied by the House of Representatives. Spurned by the legislature, PECO conjured all sorts of legal obstacles in a valiant but vain effort to thwart MORE from taking over.

To no avail.

Although its case questioning the constitutionality of some section of RA 11212 pends at the Supreme Court, PECO has officially ceased to exist as a power distributor.  After PECO’s Certificate of Public Convenience expired, the Energy Regulatory Commission issued the CPCN to MORE. Also the City Government, seeing that PECO has neither a franchise nor a CPCN and, therefore, can no longer serve as a power distribution utility, also recalled the firm’s business permit. For all intents and purposes, is a dead duck floating in the water.

Lately, though, PECO has come back to haunt MORE via a party list congressman, who urged Congress to conduct a probe into the recent frequent and prolonged power outages in Iloilo City.  In explaining his move, Ako Bisaya party list Rep. Sonny Lagon told Manila reporters 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.”

“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.

Lagon’s discombobulating statements could only show a total ignorance of power distribution operations or even his role as legislator. Was he sleeping when Congress, where he is a member, granted MORE the privilege to distribute power in Iloilo City and take over the facilities of PECO whose franchise has expired?

PECO was quick to ride on this issue, thrashing More for allegedly having no capacity nor expertise to deliver reliable power distribution service to the city. The campaign to vilify MORE is being waged not just in Congress and on social media but also the national press.

PECO fails to realize, however, that in all its efforts to tarnish MORE, it inevitably incriminates itself.  . PECO conveniently forgets that, for decades, too, it has been at the receiving end of numerous complaints – excessive rates, dilapidated facilities, anti-consumer policies, non-refund of deposits, illegal billing. It is a jarring litany of complaints and grievances that fell on PECO’s deaf ears but have finally resounded in the halls of congress thus blunting PECO’s bid for a renewal of its franchise.

MORE has inherited from PECO a decrepit, dilapidated system. When MORE conducted a “thermal scan” of the distribution system prior to taking over operations, it found some 900 hotspots, meaning potentially dangerous areas that need immediate attention and repair. More had replaced thousands of defective meters. Numerous transformers are leaking, many are overloaded and have burned circuits, and more are too old and needs to be replaced. So do the many poles leaning this way and that.

It became apparent that, in the past decade at least, PECO was more engaged in profit-taking and less on investing on maintenance and repair. The prolonged (but scheduled and pre announced) brown outs resulting from MORE’s repair of the substations in Jaro, Molo, and soon the City Proper is a product of PECO’s neglect.

MORE is just beginning to correct the faults and general disrepair in the system resulting from PECO’s decades of neglect. As MORE continues to modernize the system, things may get a little worse before they can begin to get better. Or, as the proverb that gives us hope states: “It is always darkest before dawn.”