PANAY ELECTRIC CO., INC. (PECO) is not interested in selling its power distribution assets in Iloilo City to the area’s new utility, a company official said on Thursday, citing unresolved legal issues between the two parties and the need for rules on takeovers.

“We’re not interested in selling our assets to MORE [Electric and Power Corp.],” Marcelo U. Cacho, PECO head of public engagement and government affairs, said in a briefing Thursday at the office of Divina Law, the company’s legal counsel, in Makati City.

He made the statement when asked if there is a chance for PECO and MORE to settle their dispute.

PECO previously held the franchise to distribute power in Iloilo City, which it held for 95 years. MORE now holds the franchise, awarded by Congress early this year.

“What is happening right now between PECO and MORE does not just concern Iloilo City or the people of Iloilo,” he said.

Mr. Cacho said the way the expropriation of the assets was written under MORE’s franchise could affect every power distribution utility in the country “be it Meralco (Manila Electric Co.), be it PECO, be it all the cooperatives.”

“This can impact every cooperative because now it could create an opening for the takeover of every single cooperative by big businessmen that may or may not have the interest of the people in mind. So that’s really one of the biggest issues,” he said.

“There should be a proper mechanism that will be put in place to first study whether a utility should be taken over,” he added. “In the case of PECO versus MORE there was no such assessment made.”

Mr. Cacho also addressed the recent blackouts across Panay Island and the near-simultaneous electric pole fires in the city, which he said were beyond the control of PECO.

“Now, consumers of Iloilo are asking if this is sabotage to mask the reality that the new power distribution franchise holder is not capable of serving Iloilo because they have no distribution infrastructure in place at all,” he said.

He noted that MORE has tried to portray PECO in a bad light following these incidents.

“On the legal front, we have taken legal action against MORE. We have already, in fact, secured a judgment from the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Mandaluyong declaring unconstitutional the expropriation that MORE is trying to implement against PECO,” lawyer Estrella C. Elamparo of Divina Law said.

“This judgment contains a permanent injunction prohibiting MORE from taking over the assets of PECO. They have now appealed that judgment in our favor to the Supreme Court. And they have in fact asked the Supreme Court for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to restrain the implementation of that permanent injunction and they have failed. The Supreme Court has already denied their prayer for a TRO,” she said.

“So the battle goes on, but so far the latest decision of not just the RTC Mandaluyong and the latest resolution of the Supreme Court have favored us,” she added. — Victor V. Saulon