MORE Electric and Power Corp. has countered the projected capital outlay of Panay Electric Co., Inc. (PECO) with a bigger budget at a shorter period of P1.7 billion to upgrade the power distribution system of Iloilo City.

Roel Z. Castro, president of MORE, said in a statement on Monday that the P1.1-billion capital expenditure of PECO for the next 10 years is “more or less” the amount it owed to the city’s electricity consumers.

So tama lang (So it’s just right that) they will pump it in because utang nila ’yan sa (they owe that to) consumers. In fact, they have to spend that in 10 weeks, not 10 years,” he added.

Mr. Castro, who described PECO as “franchise-denied,” said consumers had been paying the amount for years, but the utility did not invest what was collected in the past.

His statement is the latest in the exchange of words through media between MORE, the new utility franchise owner in Iloilo City, and PECO, the area’s distribution utility for 95 years whose franchise had expired.

Last week, Marcelo U. Cacho, PECO head of public engagement and government affairs, told reporters that the company was allocating about P1.1 billion in the next 10 years to upgrade and expand its existing facilities, including the construction of new substations and the replacement of its meters with “smart” ones.

Mr. Cacho, a fifth-generation member in the family business, said the company has also launched its smart metering project, which allows prepaid metering, real-time wireless meter reading, automatic disconnection and reconnection.

Early this year, MORE was granted a franchise to establish, operate, and maintain, for commercial purposes and in the public interest, an electricity distribution system in Iloilo City through Republic Act No. 11212.

It sought to expropriate what it called PECO’s “ageing” distribution network with the issuance of the franchise, which authorized MORE to take over the facility and property it needs to ensure Iloilo City and nearby towns have continuous supply of electricity.

However, PECO said a ruling by the Supreme Court blocked the expropriation of the distribution utility’s assets by MORE. It also pointed to a judgment by the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court declaring Sections 10 and 17 of RA 11212 as void and unconstitutional for infringing on PECO’s rights to due process and equal protection of the law.

Mr. Castro said PECO’s investment announcement last week was merely a public relations stunt in a desperate bid to undo Congress’ decision to grant the electricity distribution franchise to another company.

“If PECO spent that amount 10 years ago, the Iloilo City Council would not have passed a resolution asking Congress to find a new distribution utility to manage the city’s electricity distribution system and the Senate and the House of Representatives would have renewed its franchise that expired this year. Instead Congress granted the franchise to MORE and President Rodrigo Duterte signed it into law,” he said. — Victor V. Saulon