By: Francis Allan L. Angelo and Emme Rose Santiagudo
THE expropriation case filed by MORE Electric and Power Co. against Panay Electric Co. (PECO) might become a protracted battle.
The first hearing on the case at the Regional Trial Court Branch 37 on June 13, 2019 resolved key issues, including the motion to suspend the entire proceedings filed by PECO.
But the case now has a third wheel of sorts after consumer group i-Konsumidor filed an intervention with RTC Branch 37 during the hearing.
i-Konsumidor, however, said the consumers come first before anything else.
With the court denying PECO’s plea to stop the proceedings, RTC pairing Judge Victor Gelvezon set another hearing on July 2, 2019.
One of the grounds cited by PECO in asking for the suspension of the expropriation case is the petition it filed with the Supreme Court seeking the transfer of the case to a Metro Manila court.
PECO said the case has become controversial and media commentaries on the case could affect the judge’s decision.
The embattled power distributor also asked RTC Presiding Judge Yvette Go and Judge Gelvezon to inhibit from the case.
MORE Power counsel Hector Teodosio said they will oppose PECO’s plea to transfer the expropriation proceedings. The court also gave them time to write and file their answers to the motions to inhibit.
As regards MORE Power’s Application of a Writ of Possession, the court ordered them ten days to submit the necessary documents and determine the updated assessed total value of PECO’s distribution assets.
PECO also withdrew its motion for the issuance of a gag order although the court directed all parties to strictly observe the rule on sub judice.
The sub judice rule prohibits disclosure or discussions of pending cases that can influence, directly, or indirectly, the proceedings.
Meanwhile, PECO’s lead counsel Estrella Elamparo declined to comment.
Meanwhile, consumer group i-Konsumidor joined the MORE Power versus PECO fray by filing a Complaint in Intervention during the expropriation case hearing at RTC Brach 37 on Thursday.
According to Ted Aldwin Ong, i-Konsumidor’s executive director, they want to inform the court of the Petition for Audit, Account, and Lien on the Properties of PECO they filed with the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) on November 21, 2018.
“In effect, we are informing the court of our petition which is a pending resolution sa ERC because of the fact nga expropriation ang gina-istoryahan diri and ang amon assumption dapat i-settle na sang PECO ini because number one wala na sila sang franchise,” Ong said in an interview on Thursday.
PECO’s congressional franchise expired on January 19, 2019 while its Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) from ERC expired on May 25,2019.
MORE Power already acquired its congressional franchise through Republic Act No. 11212 while its CPCN is still pending with the ERC.
PECO, however, continues to distribute power on the basis of a provisional CPCN issued by ERC in May 2019.
Ong said that RA 11212 mandated the ERC to refund the amount due to consumers of PECO.
“Sa RA 11212, na-embody ang transition provision. One of the provisions nga naka-state dira is i-settle dapat sang ERC ang tanan nga refundable amounts due to consumers of PECO. We want the ERC to act on it because we are estimating nga basi mas dako pa or masupersede pa ang amount being discussed sa expropriation ang amount nga dapat nila ibalik sa konsumidor sa Iloilo,” he stressed.
In their complaint lodged with the ERC, the consumer group cited the “refundable items:
- Meter Deposit;
- Bill Deposit; and
- Trust Fund Deposit representing depreciation expense, and other over-charges by PECO to its clients, like those items which formed the contested issue of “over-billing and under-billing.”
In a statement, i-Konsumidor said the expiration of PECO’s franchise and CPCN necessitates the refund.
“The need to determine with finality PECO’s financial obligations to its power end-users (consumers) had become necessary considering the expiration of PECO’s franchise and the subsequent issuance and effectivity of MORE’s franchise with the signing of RA 11212.”
Ong said the intent of the intervention “is to assert the rights and protect the welfare of power end-users of Iloilo City while the two giant companies lock horns in a prolonged legal battle.”
“It has become incumbent on us to take a critical step in order to inform the court that PECO has outstanding liabilities to its consumers which require a priority for settlement considering the filing of a case for expropriation of its assets by MORE Power,” Ong added.
The group also emphasized in its complaint that power end-users of Iloilo City have a claim of “higher priority” because the refundable amounts “may equal or supersede what was determined for expropriation by MORE.”
“This is the reason why our course of action was a ‘Lien on the Properties of PECO’ because the final determination of the amounts for refund for all the power end-users of Iloilo City is pending action from the ERC,” said i-Konsumidor chair Raymund Moderes.
Lawyers Romeo P. Gerochi and R Leone N. Gerochi together with Raymund Moderes and Ted Aldwin Ong, who represented the Ilonggo Advocates for Consumer Welfare and Freedom from Debt Coalition-Iloilo Chapter, respectively, signed the intervention.