A clamor for MORE

By Limuel S. Celebria

A few months ago, Iloilo City power distributor MORE Power and Electric Company cut-off the ties that bound its predecessor, Panay Electric Co. (PECO) to the local generator Global Power. This allowed MORE to foray into the open electricity market and forge more consumer-friendly contracts with other power generators.

The result?  A dramatic drop in electricity rates from an upside of P10 per kilowatt hour in the previous years to a low of P6.35/kwh beginning in July. For many years, under a tricky set-up between the local power distributor and its preferred generator – the Peco and Panay Power (GPBC’s predecessor) duo duped Iloilo City power consumers into paying for what is said to be “the highest electricity rates in the world.” MORE Power, the new power distributor that replaced Peco, freed the city consumer from that chokehold, and charges the lowest power rates in the country today.

Last August, the rates went back up to P7 and change after a careless backhoe operator in Negros Occidental accidentally cut off a major distribution power cable creating widespread power outages in many parts of the Visayas. The glitch underscores the vulnerability and/or sustainability of More Power sourcing its supply all the way from the other edge of the Visayas grid in Leyte.

Still the very low power rates now being enjoyed by Iloilo City consumers is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, it has become the envy of consumers in the province of Iloilo, particularly those on the fringes of Metro Iloilo. There has become a clamor for some areas in the first and second district of Iloilo (Oton, Pavia, Leganes) to be included in MORE’s area of jurisdiction.

Among the first to raise the issue was popular sports and media personality Edwin Laruan, a resident of Savannah Subdivision in Oton, who aired the possibility of circulating a petition to such effect. The idea was welcomed by fellow Savannah residents.

Then came Pavia Municipal Councilor Dan Fajardo has delivered a privileged speech echoing the grumblings of his constituents against what could now be looked upon as excessive power rates charged by the Iloilo Electric Cooperative at over P11/kwh. He raised the idea of transferring Pavia from Ileco 1 to More Power.  The sentiment was echoed favorably by Leganes Mayor Jun Jaen. Likewise, 2nd District Congressman Mike Gorriceta said he will look into the possibility on behalf of his constituents.

Iloilo Provincial Governor Arthur “Toto” Defensor Jr., also appears to favor the “shift” in distribution from one utility to another. But he also cautioned that Ileco I and II officials should be given a chance to explain their pricing schemes. Gov. Defensor also noted that the consumers should take the initiative in asking for the transfer.

I am a little amused by all these. There was a time when PECO consumers wanted to “secede” from the private distribution company and tap instead into the nearest electric cooperative. There were even suggestions to convert PECO into a consumer owned cooperative.

Historically, PECO was among the first power distributors in the country. Before the national government launched the rural electrification program sometime in the 60s, most power generation and distribution operations were in private hands and concentrated in the highly populated urban areas like Cebu, Bacolod, and Iloilo cities in the Visayas. In that period, Peco was both a power generator and distributor and was in fact serving consumers all the way up to Sta. Barbara town.

However, in the 70s, President Ferdinand Marcos pursued rural electrification vigorously and started creating electric cooperatives. He also nationalized the generation of power and private utilities, including PECO, were limited to pure power distribution. Peco’s service area was also confined to city limits.

At this time, many private power firms were being converted or sold to cooperatives. In Negros Occidental for example, the A. S. Diaz Electric service (ASDES) which served Bacolod City and Talisay was purchased and taken over by Central Negros Electric Cooperative in June 1978.

This is why early calls for the conversion of PECO to a consumer cooperative were considered quite legitimate. The Cacho family strongly resisted the call, however.

But, indeed, the times they’re a-changing. Peco, despite its pioneering contributions and nearly 100 years of existence, is gone — done in by corporate greed and an unfriendly congress.  It is now replaced by a new player in the power industry but financially-capable, ably-managed, and fully equipped to modernize a neglected system. It is also perfectly attuned to the needs of its consumers. To the delight of long suffering consumers, it has found ways to cut power rates to nearly half the previous cost.

The current cry of power consumers adjacent to Iloilo city to transfer from one utility to another is very much legitimate and is not without precedent. Originally, there were only two electric cooperatives in the province. However, residents in the fifth district serviced by Ileco 2 complained that they were poorly served by their coop because of the distance between the consumer and the main office. A clamor for splitting the electric cooperative sprouted and Ileco 3 was born in 1986.

An act of Congress would be necessary to include the towns of Oton, Pavia, and Leganes to the franchise area of MORE Power and away from Ileco 1. This may come in the form of an amendment to the franchise granted by Congress to More two years ago. Or perhaps, an entirely new franchise bill could be drafted, passed by both houses of congress and signed into law. But with the local chief executives and congressman already buying in to the idea, it is not farfetched.

As a resident of Oton having to pay P11 / kwh for my electricity while my friend in nearby Mandurriao is only paying only P7/kwh even if he constantly complaints about the brown outs, I will add my little voice to the clamor for change and say, let’s have MORE! NOW!