By: Francis Allan L. Angelo
THE House of Representatives, through the Committee on Legislative Franchises, simply sided with the people of Iloilo City when it voted last Wednesday to dismiss the bill seeking a new franchise for Panay Electric Co (PECO) to distribute electricity in the city, a ranking congressional leader said.
House Deputy Speaker Johnny Pimentel (second district, Surigao del Sur) said on Friday that PECO consumers have been “dissatisfied with its service for years now and there were violations of several laws committed” and they only responded by denying the franchise bid.
“We voted upon the application based on the complaints, based on violations of certain laws. PECO has been in existence for 96 years and there were laws violated. RA 9136 (Electric Power Industry Reform Act), RA 7382 (Anti-electricity and Electric Transmission Lines/Materials Pilferage Act) and the Magna Carta for Electric Consumers were some of the laws it has violated,” Pimentel said in an interview with Bombo Radyo Iloilo.
“PECO has not been providing good service to its consumers. Electricity distribution is not the same as other businesses like a gasoline station or sari-sari store. This is more of service to the public. You have the responsibility to consumers to protect their welfare. Its primary responsibility is to serve but PECO failed to do that. It should have improved its service and its facilities,” he added.
MORE Electric and Power Corp. has secured a franchise to distribute electricity in Iloilo City while PECO’s franchise expired on Jan 18, 2019.
Pimentel clarified that he has no interest on the PECO issue nor does he know the owners of PECO or of MORE Power.
Pimentel also underscored the fact that Iloilo City’s lone district Rep. Julienne Baronda was “instrumental for laying the foundation for the denial of the application of PECO.”
He said that the committee listened to Baronda who raised concerns and issues.
“I also want to put it on record that she voted for the denial of application of PECO. She also played a role para hindi na mabigyan ng franchise ang PECO. She also did her part in voting for the denial of the application of PECO,” Pimentel said.
Baronda earlier said that she just stood with and for the Ilonggo people in denying PECO’s bid for a fresh congressional franchise.
“As the Lone District Representative of Iloilo City, my paramount consideration on this issue is the general welfare of my fellow Ilonggos,” she emphasized during the hearing of the Committee on Legislative Franchises on Sept 11.
Baronda, a member of the Committee on Legislative Franchises, stressed that “All distribution utility franchises are impressed with public interest, including RA 11212 (More Electric and Power Corporation’s Franchise)” and that “Utility Franchises are for the benefit of the people. Hence, the outcome of this issue should lead to the benefit of the community residing in the City of Iloilo.”
She disclosed that she used to collaborate with the Cacho family, who owns PECO, in implementing housing initiatives for the Ilonggos years ago, but stressed that the welfare of the greater majority of the Ilonggos is more important than her personal relationship with her friends.
The neophyte legislator said that she has “seen and heard the lamentations” of the Ilonggos and that the 96-year existence of PECO is a long time for it to have addressed the complaints of the consumers.
“Being a native of Iloilo City, I have seen the highs and lows of PECO’s service. I have seen and heard the Ilonggos’ lamentations. Ninety-six years is a long time and is more than enough opportunity to perfect one’s act.”
Baronda has consistently held dialogues with the people in the barangays as well as with leaders in all districts of the city and most of them wail against the bad service, expensive rates and erroneous billings of the power distributor, among other complaints.
She further underscored the fact that the people “through their elected representatives in this House and in the Senate, have already spoken in the 17th Congress when they enacted into law RA 11212, awarding MORE’s franchise.”
Baronda further argued that if PECO’s franchise application is granted “it is my humble belief that we will only create more issues, court more litigations, and produce more problems. We will never see the end of it. And that is against public interest. That is not for the benefit and welfare of the people of Iloilo City, which I represent.”
PECO’s franchise expired last January 18, 2019 and was not renewed. Congress gave MORE Power the authority to distribute electricity in the city via Republic Act No. 11212.
PECO filed a case before the Regional Trial Court of Mandaluyong, which declared Sections 10 and 17 of Republic Act 11212 to be unconstitutional.
MORE Power has appealed the decision before the Court of Appeals.
On the other hand, MORE Power has secured from the Regional Trial Court of Iloilo City a Writ of Possession against the assets of PECO based on Sections 10 and 17 of RA 11212.
Baronda also dismissed insinuations that her stand was due to her membership with the National Unity Party (NUP), which is reportedly supported by MORE Power owner Enrique Razon.
“No one can dictate what I should do or say but and only my people. Majority of the Ilonggos are fed up with the service of PECO. That’s what I have been hearing all this time. That’s what the Ilonggos have been telling me. I am their voice in the halls of Congress and what I did was to tell Congress what the Ilonggo people think,” she said.
Baronda added that she has not spoken to PECO or MORE while she was studying the issue.
“I looked at all angles before I made a stand. I prayed hard and I am saddened because I knew the Cachos but the welfare of the greater majority is my primordial concern.”
She also assured the public that she will remain vigilant and invoke the power of Congress to exercise its oversight function should MORE fail to deliver on its commitment of better and cheaper electricity for the Ilonggos.
Pimentel agreed with Baronda that granting a franchise to PECO would result in more problems.
“The granting of franchise will create no solution but instead bring about more problems. PECO and MORE will file cases against each other. It will take several years. It might take 10-15 years. So sinong magsasakripisyo while ongoing ang kaso? Ang taongbayan!”
The veteran lawmaker added, “Ano ba ang uunahin natin, negosyo o taong bayan? What we did was to protect the interest of the people. Hindi kami ang may gusto niyan. Ang may gusto niyan ang taongbayan. Gusto nilang mas magandang serbisyo ng power company. Transparent. Walang dayaan. Let us give another chance to another distributor,” Pimentel added.