Iloilo to elevate worsening blackouts to Duterte

Published July 5, 2020, 10:00 PM

by Myrna M. Velasco

Disgruntled Iloilo City power consumers are elevating their concern to President Rodrigo Duterte given the worsening brownouts that already reached 326 hours in the past four months since the assumption of MORE Electric and Power Corporation as a service provider in the area.

In a press briefing over the weekend, Iloilo City consumers said their power supply woes are further aggravated by recent bill shocks.

In addition, they are also appealing to the Supreme Court, believing that a favorable decision from the country’s highest judicial body could finally resolve the legal scuffle between MORE and former provider Panay Electric Company (PECO) — as the protracted legal battle served as the root cause of the incessant power interruptions that have been impacting adversely on their quality of life and taking toll on economic opportunities for the area.

 Ruperto Supeña, chairman of the Koalisyon Bantay Kuryente, said “Iloilo is dying and needs the help of President Duterte. We hope that you will enter the picture and you give our problem a finality here. We hope that this will be acted upon by the President.”

 He added, “We do not want our kababayans to continue suffering. We don’t want our agony to continue and our economy to deteriorate…that’s our ultimate move,” emphasizing that their strategy is to gather thousands of signatures before sending formal petition to the Office of the President.

Congress is also being urged to take a second look at the franchise granted to MORE Power, with Supeña stressing “there’s still chance for Congress to change its course on the grant of the franchise,” given the myriad of complaints from consumers now on the firm’s “mediocre” service provision.

 He further blamed MORE Power for disruptions in local businesses. “Their long and frequent brownouts are killing our businesses and livelihoods, and they are disrupting our essential medical services. We need the President to intervene, so he can keep a watchful eye on those who would exploit us.”

 In particular, he noted that coronavirus testing at the Iloilo Doctors Hospital had been affected fuelling fears that infections in the city may exacerbate that could put their lockdown status back to the stricter enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) level.

Jon Mikel Lorenzo Afzelius, corporate communications and external affairs officer of PECO, laid down in a public hearing in Iloilo City, that city suffered 326 hours in total darkness in the past four months, double the outage duration during the PECO within the same timeline last year.

Primarily, he reckoned that the approximate 13-hour power outage that happened on June 20 in Mandurriao on the eve of Father’s Day celebration, should have been addressed in a duration of just one-hour if the servicing utility can genuinely lean on technical competence and expertise in power distribution of the company’s organization.

 On the exorbitant billings, KBK Coordinator Jose Allen Aquino said they are currently collating all complaints from affected consumers – including those on electric bills that doubled as well as the questionable billing gaps – and will submit these as pieces of evidence to the Energy Regulatory Commission and Congress, so they can be prompted to carry out serious investigations on the matter.

He cited the case of Iloilo City National High School which February billing cycle prior to the Covid-19 lockdown was at P200,000, but at the height of the ECQ when there had been no classes, the school’s electric bill shoot up to P350,000. The consumer group said there was no explanation provided by MORE Power yet on this particular billing case.

On the bill shocks being the sharp focus of investigations by the House and Senate Committees on Energy and with the prime attention also given by the ERC and the Department of Energy (DOE), Supeña queried that while “Meralco is being investigated by the government, why is our situation not being looked into?”

Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Trenas, in a recent Council hearing, has taken MORE Power to task, telling the company that “the people of Iloilo deserve more, and MORE Power promised more — and we are still waiting for MORE to give us the more.”

Councilors of Iloilo also took turn in reprimanding MORE Power on the series of brownouts happening in the area, with Councilor Alan Zaldivar stating “our clear message to MORE is that, you are not ready to give quality service to Iloilo City.”

 In the view of Councilor Ely Estante, it could have been better for MORE Power if it just have invested on its own facilities rather than opt for expropriation of the assets owned by PECO.

Councilor Ed Peñaredondo similarly sought firm commitment from MORE Power on immediate improvements that it can implement the technical incompetence demonstrated by its current service, as he emphasized that this is already taking toll on the flow of investments in the city.
            Among all infrastructure assets and key facilities in that metropolis, he noted that water and power are top concerns, but this cannot be concretized squarely if the on-and-off service provision of MORE Power will persist. “Sometimes you meet the supply requirements, sometimes you do not supply. So, if that is the case, we cannot convince our investors to come over,” he said.