Panay power firm accuses rival of pursuing takeover despite court ruling

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 25 2019 03:40 PM | Updated as of Sep 25 2019 04:10 PM

MANILA – Iloilo-based Panay Electric Company (PECO) has accused rival MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE) of pursuing its takeover of PECO assets despite a court ruling declaring it unconstitutional.

In a press conference Wednesday, PECO Administrative Manager Marcelo Cacho said MORE is “vigorously pursuing the expropriation case” while appealing the judgment of a Mandaluyong court.

He also revealed the Supreme Court has denied MORE’s plea for a temporary restraining order seeking to stop the implementation of the lower court’s decision.

In July, Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 209 Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio declared sections 10 and 17 of Republic Act 11212, which granted MORE’s franchise, unconstitutional “for infringing on PECO’s rights to due process and equal protection of the law.”

Section 10 and 17 of the law allows MORE to expropriate PECO’s private assets, including poles, wires, cables, transformers, switching equipment, stations and buildings, machinery and equipment, currently being used for distributing electricity in the province.

Section 10 also allows MORE to immediately possess and operate PECO’s assets upon filing of a petition for expropriation in court and depositing in a bank the full amount of the assessed value of PECO’s properties.

The Mandaluyong court has disallowed this arrangement, calling it essentially a “corporate takeover.” It said a private property already devoted to public use cannot be the proper subject of expropriation.

MORE questioned the Mandaluyong court ruling before the Supreme Court but in an August 14 resolution, the high court’s Second Division denied MORE’s plea for a temporary restraining order.

Despite these developments, MORE, on the same day, managed to secure a writ of possession from Iloilo RTC Judge Yvette Marie Go. Go inhibited herself from the case on August 15.

PECO is now seeking to hold MORE and Judge Go in contempt of court.

In a September 2 resolution, the SC Second Division required them to comment.

Cacho said the latest development in the legal saga puts pressure on MORE to operate soon as it eats into the 2-year grace period for the power firm to establish its own distribution system.

MORE's franchise was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on February 14, 2019.

Under its franchise, MORE is given 2 years to operate. Cacho said failure to do so would result in the revocation of its franchise.

In the meantime, MORE’s franchise allows PECO to continue operating while MORE is not yet operational.

PECO said the Energy Regulatory Commission, on May 21, has given it a certificate of public convenience and necessity.

“PECO will just continue to serve as we have done in the past 100 years and we will continue our modernization drives, our upgrades in services, and also the relations, the upgrade of relations with customers,” he said.

PECO had been operating as Iloilo’s power distributor for 95 years. But its franchise expired on January 18 this year and efforts to extend it in Congress have not prospered.

Cacho said they intend to settle the legal issues first before refiling a new franchise bill in Congress.

MORE is owned by billionaire Enrique Razon.

ABS-CBN's sister company, First Philippine Holdings, is a minority stakeholder in PECO.