TAKEOVER LOOMS: Court orders sheriff to turn over PECO assets to MORE Power

By Emme Rose Santiagudo

The lloilo Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 23 ordered the sheriff to give possession of the distribution assets of Panay Electric Co. (PECO) in Iloilo City to MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power).

In a 14-page order issued on Feb 20, 2020, RTC Branch 23 Presiding Judge Emerald Requina-Contreras reiterated the grant of a writ of possession (WOP) to MORE Power.

MORE Power sought and secured the WOP via the expropriation case it filed against PECO on March 11, 2019.

Judge Contreras wrote in her decision that “the primary goal of the court is a smooth and peaceful transition of operation, to protect the public interest of the people of Iloilo City and its businesses, and to ensure the uninterrupted supply of electricity.”

She added that it was the “ministerial duty of the court” to issue the writ of possession as two previous RTC judges had already afforded due process to PECO and MORE Power.

In issuing the WOP, the court divided PECO distribution properties into three categories based on list submitted by a representative of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

Category A includes all properties that PECO did not contest as “distribution assets” such as the Baldoza, La Paz Substation and Gen. Luna, City Proper Substation, and Tabuc Suba, Jaro Substation, among others with a total assessed value of P217,940,870.

Category B properties are those the court initially found as part of the distribution assets being listed under the PECO’s “distribution plant” in the ERC record, and may be necessary for the operation of MORE Power so that the operation may not be interrupted once the writ is implemented.

The properties include meter lab, power plant building and switchboard house in Gen. Luna St. in City Proper with a total assessed value at P14,792,680.

Category C refers to properties excluded in the coverage of the writ because these are either under the classification “general plant” or not listed under the distribution plant” based on the ERC record. These properties include the pole stockyards in Diversion road, Mandurriao and land set aside for future substation in Brgy. Gen. Hughes in City Proper.

The total assessed value of these assets is at P2,252,330.

The court order indicated that the WOP issued to MORE Power covers properties under categories A and B.

“Let a Writ of Possession be issued to MORE Power in order to place MORE in possession of the enumerated properties above under categories A and B. The Sheriff of this court or other proper officer is hereby ordered to place MORE Power in possession of the property above the enumerated and submit a report thereof to the court, with service of copies to the parties pursuant to Section 2 of Rule 67 of the Rules of Court” the order said.

Contreras reiterated that properties under categories B and C are the properties which the court reserves to include in the final determination of the properties to be actually expropriated in the expropriation proceedings.

“The court would like to emphasize that some of the properties in Category B may not be awarded as among the actual properties to be expropriated if the court finds that they are not actually necessary for the realization of the purpose for which the franchise is the granted,” the court said.

In the same manner, that the properties that are excluded in the writ, may still be included in the properties to be expropriated upon the payment of just compensation, the court added.

“This will give PECO enough leeway and discretion whether or not to eventually dispose of the properties which will no longer be of use to them, the moment they stop their operation,” the order added.

The expropriation case was first assigned to RTC Branch 37 under Judge Yvette Marie Go, who inhibited from the case after granting MORE Power’s petition for a writ of possession.

PECO’s renewal application for its franchise, which expired last Jan. 19, was denied by Congress. A new franchise was granted to MORE Power in Republic Act 11212 which was signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte on Feb 14, 2019.

Judge Contreras said RA 11212 remains valid to this day, thus there is no reason to halt the expropriation proceeding.

“To this date, only a temporary restraining order from Supreme Court of Mandaluyong RTC questioning the constitutionality of MORE Power’s franchise which gives the court the imprimatur to proceed to the expropriation proceeding considering that RA 11212 continues to be operative under the doctrine of presumption of constitutionality of the laws,” Contreras said.