By: Francis Allan L. Angelo

By all indications, the colourful and confusing dispute between Panay Electric Co. and MORE Electric and Power Co. is now in a stalemate.

PECO appears to have succeeded in stalling MORE Power’s attempt to take over power distribution services in Iloilo City on the basis of Republic Act 11212 when Iloilo Regional Trial Court Branch 35 Judge Daniel Antonio Gerardo S. Amular ordered “to suspend further proceedings in this case in the interest of judicial fairness, respect to the Honorable Supreme Court and for practical considerations.”

Amular also refused to inhibit from the expropriation case filed by MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE) against Panay Electric Co. (PECO).

We can see where PECO is coming from. RA 11212 provides for a 2-year transition within which MORE Power must be able to assume the power distribution services. But take note of Section 11 of the law which refers to the term of the franchise. If MORE fails to operate continuously for two years, the franchise shall be deemed ipso facto revoked.

It seems like PECO has found a loophole in the law.

On the other hand, MORE Power has found allies in the Iloilo City Government and Rep. Julienne Baronda who have been ganging up on PECO through various means – auction of its assets due to unpaid real property taxes and investigations on fires erupting in its distribution poles.

Amid all these hullaballoo, the business sector voiced out its concerns on the uncertain status of power distribution services in Iloilo City.

The Iloilo Economic Development Foundation (ILED) had sought the help of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) by hastening its response to the complaints of consumers.

ILED is an umbrella group of business leaders and organizations and local government units.

It also asked the ERC to address the concerns of the business community, particularly the ongoing dispute between Panay Electric Co. (PECO) and More Electric Power and Co. (MORE Power).

“ILED, in line with its mission to promote Iloilo as a preferred investment destination, underscores the urgency for world-class electricity service for Iloilo City. It seeks for ERC to swiftly act on the complaints of the consumers and the issues of the investment community that are emanating from the ongoing stalemate between MORE and PECO as the rightful electricity service provider,” according to the letter signed by ILED Chairman Terence Uygongco and ILED President Jocelyn Perez.

According to ILED, power outages and voltage dips occurring frequently in the metro forced a number of BPO businesses to drop their plans to invest or expand in Iloilo City.

ILED also mentioned fire incidents involving PECO’s lines and electric posts.

“Power outages and voltage dips have become increasingly frequent. This has resulted in the hesitance of a number of BPO businesses to pursue entry and/or expansion plans favoring Iloilo City. We are concerned that we will lose out to other cities in the Philippines, whose investment climate is much more favorable due to the absence of a power problem such as what Iloilo City currently faces,” they added.

The business sector is well within its rights to push ERC to help ease our quandary over the PECO-MORE dispute. But the more imperative concern now is the fate that awaits consumers.

If PECO manages to stall MORE Power’s takeover and gets a fresh franchise (which seems like a challenge), what is our guarantee beyond their press releases that they will improve their services?

Will the P1-billion investment be enough to turn around the 95-year-old firm and become a model of efficiency and friendly service?

On the part of MORE Power, it will also invest more than P1 billion to improve power distribution in Iloilo City. Brace for higher rates folks because we don’t just pay for electricity but also for the facilities such as poles and wires.

This wait-and-see scenario is sapping the spirit.