For nearly a century now, Ilonggos have not known or dealt with any power distribution company except for the Panay Electric Co. (Peco).
Peco, after all, has been their electricity provider since the time of their great grandparents.
If my two Ilonggo friends, Raffy Señeres and Mandy Marasigan, are to be believed—and I can vouch that both are upright and sensible individuals—their relationship with the company is just like a marriage in hell.
“How many times,” they asked me, “have you thought of disconnecting your telephone or electric service because of billing problems or bad service from your provider? Many times, for sure, as we consumers always demand the best for our money.”
Raffy and Mandy point out that for the longest time Peco subscribers like them could only helplessly gnash their teeth or vociferously rant on Facebook because they had no other service provider to turn to.
Recently, Congress did something good for consumers for a change, and acted on the tons of complaints from Iloilo City residents against Peco, which has monopolized electricity distribution in the city for 95 years. The House Committee on Legislative Franchises chaired by Rep. Franz Josef Alvarez is recommending that Congress should rescind Peco’s legislative franchise, and instead give the franchise to another company that promises bigger capitalization for new and modern systems and technologies that would improve service to Iloilo residents.
My friends believe that perhaps bad karma has caught on Peco for almost a century of bad service.
The House Committee on Legislative Franchises wants to give Peco’s legislative franchise to More Minerals Corp., owned by business magnate Ricky Razon, because of what Ilonggos believe is Peco’s appalling record of inefficiency and outright abuse for being the sole distributor of electricity in Iloilo City.
Iloilo residents have filed one complaint after another before city authorities and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) for the company’s inefficiency and penchant for over-billing. These long-suffering customers are hoping that justice will be truly served now that Peco’s franchise has come up for renewal.
Peco is managed by what many Ilonggos call an oligarch family, the Cacho Family of Iloilo. In almost 10 decades of operation, and amid modernization and globalization, Peco has failed to adapt to the times. Management has not done anything to improve its service offerings and evolve into a world-class supplier. Despite the deluge of warnings from City Hall and the ERC for it to shape up, Peco has been committing one mistake after another, continually alienating its customer base.
Raffy, in bewilderment, told me: “Peco just implemented a 1,000-percent increase in our monthly bill. Their reason was the overhead cost of its new metering system, which suddenly converted the uncollected electricity consumption into a mega-monthly electricity bill.”
Mandy narrated that it took the ERC to pacify the rioting Peco customers, resolving 80 percent of the complaints, but not without a shockwave within Iloilo’s political and business circles.
The sudden monthly bill increase early this year was preceded by a ton of customer complaints filed with the ERC over the past years. The utility firm was officially sanctioned for overbilling its customers, leading to the ERC ordering Peco in 2014 to return P631 million in overpayments to its customers. To date, however, Peco has yet to fully comply with the directive, according to testimonies given to the House Committee on Legislative Franchises.
The Singapore-based consulting firm WSP concluded that the utility firm has yet to completely implement measures to make it a world-class utility eight years after the business community made its recommendations. WSP was contracted by the Iloilo Economic Development Foundation (ILED) to study the systems of Peco so it could start moving toward world-class service in line with the city government and the business community’s economic development plans for the future.
ILED Executive Director Francisco Gentoral also noted that the WSP recommendations are “just the minimum steps that a distribution utility should take to serve its stakeholders,” and not even those that would match the services offered in other regions in Asia.
Because of its lackadaisical approach to modernizing its service, Peco lags way behind other utility firms in Manila, Cebu and Davao. When compared with other utilities in Asia, it falls way, way behind global standards, the WSP pointed out.
Palawan Rep. and Legislative Franchises Chairman Franz Alvarez said that Peco’s consistently bad record was one of the compelling reasons that the committee members are considering not to extend the company’s franchise.
But as far as Peco Vice President for Operations Randy Pastolero is concerned, the realities on the ground are on his company’s side. He said that a newcomer seeking a franchise to distribute power would need considerable time, perhaps more than a year, to set up its own facilities. Peco’s franchise rival, More Electric and Power Corp., still has no distribution network, power rates and supply contracts, among others. Although More Power may have the technical and financial capability, conceded Pastolero, it does not have the facilities. Pastolero reiterated that Peco won’t sell its assets to More Power.
In a recent press conference, More Power President Roel Castro assured Ilonggos that his company would be efficient in distributing electricity even if it is a new industry player. “Running an electric utility is not so much a specialized job or skill as we may think. What I am trying to emphasize is there are a lot of talents out there. It is not as if it’s too specialized that you really have to go out and look for them.”
But for my friends and residents of Iloilo who were too shocked to see their P1,000 monthly bill shooting up to P100,000 a month, this is poetic justice. Bad karma for bad service.
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