Treñas, no love lost for Peco?

By: Limuel Celebria

Our previous columns have been focused on the city’s power sector. We simply couldn’t help it. The vitriolic exchange of issues between ‘outgoing’ power distributor Panay Electric Company (PECO) and its would-be successor, More Electric and Power Company has engaged the entire community. The clash between PECO and MORE, including supporters on either side has always been, well, electric.

Late last month, one of our columns (The Daily Guardian, October 26, Power Theft: a Growing Menace) raised concern over the numerous incidents of electric poles bursting into flames, threatening to set off conflagrations in the neighborhood. We attributed these cases of “spontaneous combustion” (to use a colorful phrase) to the apparently unabated power theft going on in many parts of the city. The power theft or pilferage causes undue overload on electrical wires which melt and cause short-circuits or transformers to conk out or burst into flame.

A couple of days following our column, City Mayor Jerry P. Treñas fired off an angry letter asking the Energy Regulatory Commission to investigate Peco over the same “pole fires.” This time, however, the city chief executive placed the blamed squarely on the shoulders of Peco. The mayor’s heated communiqué, which was also sent to Malacanang, lashed at Peco for its dilapidated equipment and the poor maintenance of its distribution system.

Peco fended off the accusations saying that other telecommunication companies – PLDT, Globe, Skycable, etc. — are as much to blame for the sordid state of the city’s power and communication lines.  This is, of course, a feeble attempt at deflection.

Even the Bureau of Fire Protection is pointing the finger at Peco saying the company is responsible for at least half of the pole fire incidents for the past five years. ( This was contained in a report submitted by the Iloilo City Fire Marshall Chief Inspector Christopher Regencia to the ERC. The ERC has already conducted an investigation into Mayor Treñas’ complaint but it has yet to come out with its official report.

What is very disturbing is the revelation that Peco admits “it has no technical people to attend to the pole fires except to monitor and document those cases.”

Regencia has been quoted as saying that “PECO’s failure to deal with fire incidents involving its electricity poles a big dent in the resources of the fire department.” The fire marshall noted that in other cities like Cagayan de Oro City, where he was previously assigned the distribution utility, has its own fire prevention and containment unit to deal with pole fires.

Early this week, Iloilo City Rep. Jam Baronda has joined in, expressing her support for Mayor Treñas’ move against Peco. Baronda, expressing fears for the safety of the city’s power consumers, to “look into the matter with dispatch.” Baronda said Congress is closely monitoring the ERC investigation. If ERC proves PECO to be negligent, the power firm – which has already lost its franchise to distribution power to Iloilo City – stand to also lose its temporary Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity.

Compounding Peco’s problem is its tax liability to the city government amounting to some P100 million.  Since 2016, Peco has been operating without a local business permit for its failure to pay real property taxes on land where its poles stand. To avoid payment, Peco has filed a protest with the court.

But City Mayor Jerry P. Treñas has set for auction Peco’s properties on December 12 in order to collect on the tax liability.  MORE, which has an expropriation case against Peco based on the eminent domain provisions of its franchise granted by congress, has announced it is joining the auction.

In a statement, More Power President Roel Castro said, “The reason why we are participating is because of the city. Kawawa naman ang (We take pity on the) city na for years hindi binabayaran kaya (hasn’t been paid, so) we will participate and pay more than the floor price so the city can use the funds already for their social services.”

It is interesting to note that, for many years, the Treñas law office – which was founded by the city mayor’s late father, constitutionalist Efrain Treñas, represented Peco in most of its legal travails. Why then is Mayor Treñas going hard after their law firm’s former client?

It is difficult to speculate, but methinks Mayor Treñas, ever the astute politician, has seen the writings on the wall. Peco has not just become a liability, it has become a non-entity. Following the congressional rejection of its application for renewal of franchise, the only thing that is keeping its head above water is its temporary CPCN issued by the ERC. But even that has become tenuous, dependent on the outcome of the ERC investigation.

PECO has served Iloilo for over 95 years. But it had become arrogant, not user-friendly, its record of service leaving much to be desired. It’s about time to give it the rest it deserves.