ERC orders Visayan Electric to probe ‘extortion' raps

Published January 23, 2022, 11:35 AM

by Myrna M. Velasco

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has formally directed Visayan Electric Company Inc. (VECO) to comprehensively investigate the alleged rampant extortion tied to its power restoration activities.

Allegations of extortion by VECO linemen, contractors and other parties involved have been circulating in various social media platforms and were subsequently reported to the ERC that alarmed the industry regulator.

Taking cue from that, ERC Chairperson Agnes T. Devanadera announced, “We have directed VECO to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of the matter.”

“The number of incidents reported to the Commission, which involved either VECO contractors or volunteers or both allegedly extorting money from VECO consumers to expedite the restoration of their electricity, is alarming and needs the immediate appropriate action by VECO,” said Devanadera.

The regulatory body further indicated that it “received reports through various platforms, notably from social media, that the delay in restoring electricity in Cebu is not due to the damaged distribution lines but due to the alleged rampant bribery and corruption of some people who prioritize the restoration of electricity of those who offer money.”

Devanadera thus reiterated “these reports of alleged extortion are truly disturbing and we cannot just disregard or take these things sitting down.”

The Visayan power utility, which is a major electricity service provider in Cebu, was given 15 days to “submit the result (of its findings) to the Commission in writing” from the date when it received the ERC order.

In the written report to be submitted, the ERC further instructed VECO to specify “he actions taken against those involved, if any, and the measures put in place to prevent extortion from being committed.

“We enjoin VECO to use the necessary means to obtain thorough, comprehensive and unbiased findings, including the use of witnesses’ testimony when available,” stated the ERC order.

To note, the franchise area of VECO in Cebu had been among those heavily pummeled by typhoon Odette’s passing last month. Electricity service had been widely disrupted across households, businesses and other establishments in its service domain.

Restoration of electricity supply in VECO’s service areas had been reported at 80 percent last week. Restoration works in the remaining areas are still ongoing.

On account of recent developments then, the ERC has likewise mandated Visayan Electric “to expedite the restoration of electricity in its franchise area,” and must correspondingly inform the regulatory body and its consumers on the progress of its power restoration activities – including the challenges being encountered.