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Something afoot in Iloilo

/ 05:05 AM November 14, 2018

ILOILO — “Our Peco” is how a local businesswoman refers to the Panay Electric Co. She says she is not alone with this sense of “ownership” and “kinship” that the city’s residents have for the 95-year-old power distributor. After all, Iloilo folks have known no other electricity supplier, which has been with them through wartime and peacetime, power shortfalls and typhoons, good times and bad, and now through a time of extraordinary progress and development.

In contrast, says this same businesswoman, “we know nothing about MORE.” This is the company that is angling to take over the power franchise currently held by Peco which will expire in January next year.

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What’s worse, apart from MORE’s lack of a track record and experience in supplying Iloilo City’s (or any other city’s) electricity needs, is that moves to transfer Peco’s franchise have been done with hardly any consultation with the city’s consumers, particularly the business community.

“Ordinary consumers have, or should have, the right to be heard on such an important issue as a city’s power supplier,” says the businesswoman. “There’s been no fair hearing among the public here about this proposed change. No one, no government body, has come asking for the thoughts and sentiments of the people of Iloilo. What’s MORE doing here? How can it serve us better than Peco?”

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Even more crucial, she says, is the impact the issue of Peco’s imperiled franchise has been having on the city’s investment prospects. “I know for a fact that many potential investors have decided to delay making a commitment until the power issue is settled. Power supply and reliability is crucial if development is to take place.”

From all appearances, Iloilo is a city rapidly on its way to first-tier status. A remarkable growth spurt has taken place in the last few years, with new developments, commercial and residential townships and even tourist attractions changing the landscape of this city.

Which is why it’s a shame that just as the city is about to leap into “first city” status, the question of the next power distributor should come up. Discussed previously in this space was the rather clandestine and rushed approval in the House of MORE’s application for a franchise, while Peco’s own application for a renewal had been gathering dust in committee level for almost a year.

The ball is now in the Senate, where the committee headed by Sen. Grace Poe is hearing the merits of the competing applications for franchise.

“We will never leave Iloilo in darkness,” swear Peco’s officers, although unfortunately their fate is largely dependent on how legislators — many of whom don’t live in Iloilo — weigh the respective competencies of Peco and the upstart MORE.

If Congress cannot arrive at a consensus on the power issue in Iloilo, there have been suggestions made about a concurrent resolution that would extend Peco’s franchise to provide a smooth transition. As it is, a period of uncertainty is sure to follow Peco’s loss of franchise. Is MORE, in the event of a takeover, ready to supply power to Iloilo’s homes, businesses and establishments?

For another Ilonggo businessman, one other issue aside from the crucial matter of power supply is the loss of Peco as a player in Iloilo’s economy. As it is, the power company is the city’s No. 2 taxpayer, and among the top 25 businesses in Iloilo. As a local company, Peco also pays local taxes and does not remit its earnings to Manila or elsewhere.

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“We expected prior consultations with the public,” states another prominent Iloilo business figure who has also been involved in local politics. “But with very limited information shared with us, we didn’t understand what was going on. Why should it be up to people in Manila to decide the fate of Iloilo?”

Why indeed? And who is behind the favored status enjoyed by MORE despite its relative “youth” as a corporate entity and hardly any experience in power distribution?

Something’s afoot — and not just in Iloilo.

rdavid@inquirer.com.ph

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TAGS: At Large, MORE, Panay Electric Co., PECO, Rina David
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