By: Manuel “Boy” Mejorada

The 12-hour black-out in Iloilo City last Oct. 30 erased any and all doubts on the long-held belief that the Panay Electric Co. (PECO) was poorly managed and that its brand of service was consistently inferior.

The night before, Iloilo City, as with the rest of Panay island, was hit by a power outage caused by technical problems with the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP). This lasted several hours.

Hence, people were surprised when, at around 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 30, the entire island lost power once more. The problem was quickly traced to a technical issue with the submarine cable that connects local electricity distributors, including PECO, with the entire grid in the Visayas.

NGCP managed to fix the problem in an hour or two. By 10 a.m., power supply was restored for all power cooperatives in Iloilo Province and the provinces of Capiz, Antique, Aklan and Guimaras. Residents in Iloilo City were looking forward to getting power back shortly after the power coops.

But the power outage dragged on until late afternoon. Tens of thousands of Ilonggos endured the heat of the afternoon. Office work literally came to a standstill in buildings without power generators. Radio anchors cursed PECO as they tried to get answers.

At first, PECO asked for understanding from its consumers, saying that its main supplier, the coal-fired power plants of the Global Business Power Corp. in Brgy. Ingore, Lapaz, required a minimum of six hours to start up their furnaces after an emergency shut-down. Counting the six hours, power should have been restored by 2 p.m. GBPC later said its coal-fired plants started producing power at 6 p.m.

Strangely, it took PECO another hour, or around 7 p.m., before the darkness that shrouded the city was lifted when the power supply returned. All in all, it had taken nearly 12 hours for PECO to re-energize the city.

That was a scenario that wasn’t supposed to happen.

Under the grid system, electric distributors are not confined exclusively to one or two suppliers. In case its power supply needs could not be met by its suppliers, it can switch to the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) to buy power and cover its deficiency.

Hence, when GBPC was still down at around 10 a.m. when the grid had returned to normal, PECO could have easily purchased its requirements, at least until the main supplier could bring back its supply, from the WESM.

This is part of an elaborate set-up under the EPIRA (Electric Power Industry Reform Act) to protect consumers from prolonged outages, and even atrociously high power rates.

The problem with PECO is that it didn’t acknowledge its failure to effectively and adequately address the situation. For 12 hours, its consumers suffered all forms of inconvenience from lack of power, and all it could do was finger-pointing. It blamed GBPC and then NGCP, and back and forth. But it never did admit the problem lay with the company.

It didn’t take rocket science to figure out that PECO was at fault. It has a lot of explaining to do.

Why didn’t it buy power from WESM to cover for the insufficiency while the coal-fired plants were starting up?

The grid was operational, and it shouldn’t have taken them more than 10 minutes to get power from the spot market. It might have been more expensive than its contracted supply from GBPC, but the cost difference would have been charged to consumers anyway. And considering that it was going only for a short period, the cost difference wouldn’t have been too much.

If this isn’t a classic case of mismanagement, I don’t know what the term means.

It was a crisis situation that put PECO to a test on how it could deliver quality service to its consumers. Unfortunately, it failed to hurdle the test.

For me, this is the final straw that should seal the fate of PECO. It’s time for PECO to cut clean. Leave it to the new franchise holder, MORE Power, to elevate the quality of service to the people. Your company had nearly a century to prove its worth. You succeeded in showing you aren’t worthy of the privilege.