MORE Power law ‘free from legal infirmities’, says lawyer

By Joseph B.A. Marzan

MORE Electric and Power Corporation’s (MORE Power) lawyer on Friday asserted that Republic Act No. 11918, which expands its legislative franchise to areas outside of Iloilo City, was in line with

Lawyer Allana Babayen-on, the company’s legal counsel, explained to Daily Guardian on Air the differences between the new law and House Bill No. 10554 of the 18th Congress.

House Bill No. 10554 sought to expand Davao Light and Power Company’s franchise area into other towns and cities in Davao Del Norte, currently served by the North Davao Electric Cooperative (NORDECO).

But President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. vetoed the bill on July 28, 2022, two days before the MORE Power franchise lapsed into law on July 30.

Marcos Jr. cited Section 27 of Republic Act No. 9136 (Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001), which provides that all legislative franchises for distribution utilities should be allowed to their full term.

Babayen-on stated that, unlike the Davao Light bill, the new law did not provide for MORE Power’s expropriation of assets of Iloilo Electric Cooperatives (ILECO), which currently hold the franchise for the towns and component city which were also included in MORE Power’s expanded franchise area.

RA 11918 also respects the ILECOs’ existing franchises by not providing for MORE Power’s takeover of power distribution in those areas until the expiry of the existing ILECO franchises.

ILECO II General Manager Jose Redmond Roquios told Daily Guardian on Air last August 19 that ILECO I’s franchise is set to expire in 2053, while ILECO II’s is in 2029, and ILECO III’s in 2038.

“[Rep. Act No. 11918] is just an expansion of the [franchise] areas but never is it stated there, and it was clarified during the Senate hearings, that [MORE Power] would have no power to expropriate unlike the existing franchise when we took over [power distribution in] Iloilo City,” Babayen-on said.

“[MORE Power] is required to put up its own facilities and cannot expropriate the existing assets of the ILECOs and the ILECO franchises will continue as it is. There is no transition, there is no reduction of the life of the ILECOs.”

She also said that the Davao Light bill was a “collateral attack” on the NORDECO franchise by canceling a portion of the latter’s franchise area without due process.

“There is no reduction in the ILECOs’ franchise area because with the effectivity of the law. […] There is just an overlapping of the franchise areas, so it will promote competition because there will be two distribution utilities in one area and this will give customers the option to choose who their electric provider will be,” Babayen-on said.

In the same program, MORE Power’s Deputy Head for Network Operations Engr. Bailey Del Castillo vowed that they would “try not to cross lines” with ILECO.

But if MORE Power’s overhead lines would indeed cross that of the ILECOs, del Castillo said they will use insulated wires, just like what they are doing in Iloilo City.

“We can also opt to bury the lines underground complete with proper markings to avoid being disturbed or cut during roadworks. We can also have manholes so we can access the underground cable systems for easier installations and inspections. That has been done before and we can do it here in Iloilo,” he added.

Because of Rep. Act No. 11918, MORE Power’s franchise has now expanded to several areas in Iloilo province, including Alimodian, Leganes, Leon, Pavia, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara (under ILECO I), Barotac Nuevo, Dingle, Dueñas, Dumangas, New Lucena, Passi City, San Enrique, and Zarraga (under ILECO II), and Anilao and Banate (under ILECO III).