DOE, ERC probe urged on Iloilo brownouts, billing errors

Published June 19, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Myrna M. Velasco

An investigation by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) had been urged on the double whammy of brownouts and alleged billing errors that have been tormenting Iloilo City consumers.

Given the rising exasperation of consumers in the area over the alleged punitive service provision of More Electric and Power Corporation (MORE), Representative Sonny Lagon of Ako Bisaya Party-list, primarily called on the two relevant government agencies “to investigate the matter at the soonest,” as he emphasized that “power is not something the consumers have to worry about, especially with the pandemic right now.”

Aside from the power interruptions, Jose Allen Aquino, who is the coordinator of the Koalisyon Bantay Kuryente (KBK) in Panay island, also disclosed in a virtual press briefing the consumer-complaints of erroneous billings, such as the non-matching information on names and addresses in the dispatched bills of end-users in the city; and in his view that must also be in the sharp focus of investigations by the ERC. He said they will file formal complaint with the ERC, but the group qualified it will first lodge the grievances of consumers to MORE.

Aquino similarly bewailed the manner on how MORE has not been transparent to the consumers or the company’s technical people don’t know the real causes of the power interruptions – especially those that are beyond the scheduled maintenance activities. The power utility firm, he added, is likewise failing on addressing consumers’ plea for immediate restoration of their electricity service whenever interruptions occur. “The brownouts have been happening at longer durations and they almost occur on a daily basis and this is clearly a disservice to the people of Iloilo City,” he said.

He narrated the unscheduled power interruptions are being spread through 5-7 hours in a day; and the worst happened on April 21 this year with more than 20 times of brownout-frequencies affecting various parts of the city.

Aquino emphasized the power outages are also posing risks to the people of Iloilo City, primarily on probability of contracting coronavirus infection, because they are being compelled to be out of their homes to wade through the inconvenience of brownouts when they cannot run their cooling devices, such as aircons and electric fans because of power supply lack.

Representative Joseph Steven Paduano of Abang Lingkod Party-list pointed out “once again, our argument on the issue proves us correct. And during this time of a pandemic, it is more highlighted that the leaders of this country — in all branches of government involved in this power crisis — and that includes Congress, must show the people of Iloilo our sense of urgency to settle this issue the soonest possible time.”

It has to be noted that the DOE had been calling the attention of power utilities that have been subjecting their consumers to the distress of brownouts, especially with the planned blended learning approach of the government that will critically require the provision of reliable power supply especially on households for the students’ home schooling arrangement.

In the same vein, the ERC has been warning power utilities over complaints of consumers on their “unexplained” electric bills or billing errors especially at the height of the enforcement of community lockdowns in the country.

Aquino also raised another problem in Iloilo, wherein “tens of thousands of informal settlers, especially those living in the shorelines for decades, were offered instant connection of electricity by MORE but were eventually asked to sign a waiver which technically puts them at risk of being evicted from the property they’ve called home for many years.”

He further rapped that MORE’s offer of electricity service connections had been “without inspection nor proper requirements,” and such acts can be considered complicit and defies warranted protection of consumers’ rights and welfare.

KBK Interim Chairman Ruperto Supeña said their group will also be filing a petition at the House of Reopresentatives to support the call of some congressmen to investigate the power interruptions in Iloilo City; and to possibly scrutinize violations committed by MORE under its franchise.

And while the legal scuffle between MORE and Panay Electric Company (PECO) persists on power distribution for Iloilo, Paduano pleaded to President Rodrigo Duterte
“to look into this so we can be assured that due process is being followed and that there is no abuse of our legal system.”

He emphasized that the plight of the Iloilo consumers can only be addressed firmly if the Supreme Court finally resolves the expropriation case filed before it, so the legal skirmish over electricity service provision in the city can finally be put to rest.