Too late

By: Manuel “Boy” Mejorada

About two weeks ago, I was driving down General Luna St. when I noticed giant Christmas lanterns with the logo of Panay Electric Co. (PECO) prominently displayed in the center of the star. My reaction was, “Oh wow, PECO is quite early in spreading the Christmas message to the people of Iloilo City!” It became obvious to me that PECO was mounting an aggressive public relations campaign.

This was followed by the remarks of Marcelo Cacho, PECO’s PR chief, outlining a P1.1 billion facilities improvement plan to improve the services of the utility firm, now operating without a franchise, over the next several years. If you just listen to Cacho, the plan is indeed highly impressive. But promises are promises until these are fulfilled.

And PECO isn’t in a position to make consumers believe their sales talk. They have a track record of poor services and disregard for the welfare of their consumers. It’s been in the business for almost a century, and consumers would perhaps let them continue if only the company consistently delivered even just above average quality of service. Unfortunately, it was too arrogant. It was too insensitive to the needs of its consumers. For me, PECO was the model of how bad a company’s community relations can be. Ask me to spell “PR disaster” and my answer would be PECO.

At this point, PECO simply doesn’t want to let go of a giant milking cow. It is a business that generates hundreds of millions of pesos, or even billions, every year without risk of a bad year or poor demand for its products. It is a monopoly that squeezed dry its consumers. Now the consumers have taken things into their own hands. They came out in droves to oppose any franchise for PECO. And the House of Representatives heeded the outpouring of anti-PECO sentiments.

With its shimmering package of promises, the question that must be asked is: if PECO reneged on its obligations in 95 years, will we still believe in it?

P1.1 billion is a lot of money. Well, if you come to think about it, any capital expenditures made by PECO would be charged to consumers anyway. It’s not as if PECO will hurt its cash-flow if it does fulfill its promise. The ROI is guaranteed 100%.

It must also be kept in mind that PECO is operating without a franchise. It remains in business in hold-over capacity. It’s quite obvious the legal battles will buy them time. The real investment PECO is making is waging this legal battle. It’s being fought on several fronts. How long can it sustain the fight?

Public sympathy is not on the side of PECO. No question about it, it has the right to protect its legal rights. But even as it fights fiercely, consumers haven’t seen any improvement in the quality of its service.