By Emme Rose S. Santiagudo, Correspondent
ILOILO CITY — Razon-led MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power) started taking over the distribution assets of Panay Electric Co., Inc. (PECO) in Iloilo City Friday following a local court order granting its petition for a writ of possession.
Tension, however, loomed at the PECO head office and other substations as company officials and employees refused to receive the court order and the addendum outlining guidelines for a peaceful transition.
Under the addendum, MORE Power employees may be deployed to oversee the facilities but “operation should still be handled by PECO personnel who has the technical expertise.”
MORE Power employees, accompanied by the local sheriff, members of the court, and police officers just went around the PECO compound to identify properties listed under the writ of possession after the main building’s doors were closed.
MORE Power claimed that as of 11:15 a.m Friday, it has taken over the substation in General Luna Street, one of PECO’s five substations.
“MORE Power had effectively taken possession and control over the machinery, land, and buildings used as the meter lab, power plant building, and switchboard house,” company legal officer Allana Mae A. Babayen-on said in a press briefing.
MORE Power President and Chief Operating Officer Roel Z. Castro said they are working to take possession of the other substations.
“Everything we are doing is in accordance with the court order. We are very grateful that the court upheld our position on the matter of the writ of possession. This is clearly the people’s victory of our great City of Iloilo,” he said.
Mr. Castro also said they will start their operations even without the certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) from the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).
“It is unusual in the sense that this is the first time that this happened. So far, we have complied with the requirements of CPCN and we are positive that ERC will issue it by next week. Few days of no CPCN is not a problem. If this is something that is being questioned, why don’t we question the franchise of PECO. Between the two, the franchise is stronger,” he said.
PECO, on the other hand, asserts that the attempted takeover is “unprecedented” and “highly irregular”.
“I don’t know what control they have. It’s unprecedented, shocking, highly irregular. The issue of constitutionality is still pending at the Supreme Court and they, MORE is trying to force its way,” PECO legal counsel Estrella C. Elamparo said.
A case filed by PECO questioning the constitutionality of some provisions of MORE Power’s franchise is pending before the Supreme Court.
PECO also said in a statement that it will continue to “exhaust all possible legal remedies to pursue justice and continue to serve the people of Iloilo.”
The 14-page Iloilo court decision, dated February 20, was issued by Judge Emerald Requina-Contreras of the Regional Trial Court Branch 23.
Ms. Contreras, the third judge to handle the case after two others inhibited themselves, said in the decision that “the primary goal of the court is a smooth and peaceful transition of operation, to protect the public interest of the people of Iloilo City and its businesses, and to ensure the uninterrupted supply of electricity.”
She added that it was the “ministerial duty of the court” to issue the writ of possession as two previous judges had already afforded due process to PECO and MORE Power.
MORE Power sought the writ of possession through an expropriation case filed on March 11, 2019.
PECO’s application for the renewal of its franchise, which expired last Jan. 19, was denied by Congress.
A new franchise was granted to MORE Power through Republic Act 11212, signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte on Feb 14, 2019.