PECO’S LIFELINE? DOJ junks private firm-led expropriations

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

Justice Secretary Menandro Guevarra recently declared that expropriations done by private companies are “onerous and highly disadvantageous to government.”

Guevarra was referring to the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) delegation of the power of eminent domain to two water concessionaires by mere contract.

MWSS was granted by law the power of eminent domain but it further delegated that power to Maynilad and Manila Water by contract, which made the whole thing questionable and, according to the DOJ, illegal.

“It’s a derogation of the sovereign right of eminent domain, because you’re giving a private party the right to determine what to expropriate and so forth and so on. That’s a principle in law,” Guevarra stressed.

Considering this, the DOJ will remove “onerous and highly disadvantageous” items in the supply contracts of Manila Water Co and Maynilad Water Services Inc., according to Guevarra.

Last year, MORE Electric and Power Corp (MORE), a company owned by gambling and port magnate Enrique Razon, moved to expropriate the power distribution assets of another existing utility, the Panay Electric Company (PECO).

MORE filed an expropriation case to take over the facilities of PECO.

But Iloilo Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Daniel Antonio Gerardo Amular, who inherited the case after a previous presiding judge inhibited herself, issued an order suspending the expropriation proceedings in the interest of judicial fairness, respect to the Honorable Supreme Court, and for practical considerations.

Amular also halted the implementation of the writ of possession issued by the judge that previously handled the case.

He noted that the Supreme Court had already ruled in another case that “the issue of constitutionality would be like a prejudicial question to the expropriation as it would be a waste of time and effort to appoint evaluation of commissioners and debate the market value of the property sought to be condemned if it turned out that the condemnation was illegal.”

MORE Power and PECO are locked in legal battles soon after the passage of Republic Act 11212 which granted MORE the franchise to distribute power in Iloilo City.

PECO has complained that the wholesale turnover of its assets to MORE Power by way of expropriation was unconstitutional.

Pundits have pointed out that MORE is a private entity trying to expropriate assets of an existing power distribution utility, which is, as the DOJ pointed out in the MWSS case, onerous and even unconstitutional.

In a related development, Judge Amular recently issued a statement decrying MORE’s lawyer of trying to blackmail him to inhibit from the expropriation proceedings.