ERC slams PECO for ‘sowing confusion’

By: Francis Allan L. Angelo

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) expressed dismay at Panay Electric Company (PECO) for “misleading” the public when it hosted a press conference last Nov 14 purportedly with the regulatory body.

In a statement, ERC Chairperson and CEO Agnes VST Devanadera denied any part in the press conference or releasing any report on pole fires in Iloilo City.

“Premature reporting of the outcome of our investigation is but a product of speculation that serves no purpose, except to confuse the public,” Devanadera said.

Days before the press conference, PECO, through its retained legal counsel Divina Law, sent out invitations to metro Manila-based journalists which read: “The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has conducted an investigation on the maintenance of the distribution lines of the Panay Electric Company (PECO) to shed light on the situation. They recently completed the investigation and we are pleased to invite you to a press briefing of PECO and its counsel, the Divina Law, on November 14, Thursday, 10:00 a.m. so that we would be able to share the results of the findings and the outcome of the ERC hearing.”

During the media conference, a digital backdrop emblazoned with the words “PECO ERC PRESSCON” was seen at the venue. Photos of the backdrop were even published by media that attended the conference.

The ERC immediately distanced itself and disowned the press conference.

“The ERC has no participation, in any manner, in the said press conference. The ERC remains independent in the discharge of its functions, including the conduct of investigations,” Devanadera clarified.

“The ERC has completed its field inspection and data gathering as part of its investigation on the series of pole fire incidents in the PECO franchise area. The parties concerned have also been summoned by the Commission to shed light on these incidents. The findings of the technical team will be presented to the Commission Monday (Nov 18, 2019) and released to the public accordingly.”

The ERC dispatched an inspection team to Iloilo City in the first week of November in response to the letter-complaint filed by Mayor Jerry Treñas following the series of fire incidents involving electric poles and wires.

The inspection teams looked into the different aspects of PECO’s distribution system.

The ERC also invited PECO to shed light on the pole fire incidents in a hearing conducted on Oct 30, 2019.

The commission likewise directed PECO to submit a written comprehensive report to shed light on the pole fire incidents, and the same is now being reviewed together with the Commission’s findings from the field.

“It would be prudent for the Commission to evaluate and analyze the situation surrounding the reported pole fire incidents holistically and not on a per incident or asset basis. The way that the poles are maintained over the years and the remaining useful life of the poles also needs to be looked into. We are mindful of the urgency of resolving this matter and we wish to assure the public that this is among the priority concerns of the Commission,” Devanadera said.

BFP-Iloilo records submitted to the ERC showed that from Jan. 1, 2014 to Oct. 29, 2019, a total of 2,887 fire incidents occurred in Iloilo City, with pole fires numbering 1,464 cases, or 51.187 percent of all fire incidents during the almost six-year period.

Two hundred and twenty-four pole fires occurred out of the 427 fire incidents in 2014, while 228 cases of pole fires happened in 2015, 303 cases in 2016, 275 incidents in 2017 and another 233 pole fires in 2018.

A total of 201 pole fires erupted in the city from January to October 27, 2019, and the cases continue to rise.

Iloilo City Fire Marshall Chief Inspector Christopher Regencia reiterated that the telecommunications companies’ wires usually carry a 24-volt charge as opposed to PECO wires which has a 220-voltage charge and said, “only electricity wires, either damaged or overloaded,  can cause fires and not telephone or cable tv wires”.

PECO lost its franchise in January 2019 after failing to convince Congress to renew it due to consumer complaints of poor service and safety issues.

PECO currently operates under a provisional Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) from the ERC until the new distribution utility, MORE Electric and Power Corp., completes its full takeover of the city’s distribution system.

In that press conference, Marcelo Cacho, PECO head of Public Engagement and Government Affairs, said they are not interested in selling their assets to MORE Power.

Cacho added that they can still seek renewal of their franchise but this depends on the developments in the legal battle they are waging with MORE Power.

“We can actually still file a new franchise at any given time, but we’ll wait first to see more movement in the courts,” a GMA News Online article cited Cacho as saying.

PECO filed a petition with the Supreme Court seeking to suspend the expropriation proceedings and prevent a takeover of its assets by MORE Power.

“Whatever the SC decides—with this expropriation—will become a landmark case and will create a precedent. We urge that the ERC not be manipulated by the sabotage and we urge MORE to do the right thing also,” he added. (With a report from GMA News Online)