Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 20 October 2018


Reader, this is a story about grave abuse of power on the part of our House of Representatives (HR). It should not, it cannot, be allowed. Consider this:

On Aug. 22, two months ago, Rep. Gus Tambunting filed House Bill No. 8132, which would grant More Minerals Corp. (MMC) a franchise to be  an electric power distribution utility in Iloilo City.

Question: Why is a mining company being considered for a franchise as a business in which  it obviously has no experience? For Iloilo City at that, which is one of the fastest-growing areas in the Philippines. The answer: Well, it had already applied to the Securities and Exchange Commission for a change of name to More Electric and Power Corp., and was just waiting for approval. How limp is that?

Jeez. That name change does not alter the fact that MMC, as its officers admitted, does not have any existing assets, facilities, equipment or employees to be used in the electric power distribution. A major, insuperable obstacle to granting a franchise, wouldn’t you say?

And yet, Tambunting’s bill was given royal and speedy treatment by the Committee on Legislative Franchises of the HR, chaired by Rep. Franz Alvarez.

Speedy because, by Oct. 10, or 12 days less than two months after the original bill was filed, the HR had passed  HB 8302 on third reading. That is akin to the speed of lightning (some bills take years to be passed). To achieve that speed, a lot of procedures and substantive issues were left by the wayside: no three-day notice of hearings, no notice and invitation to stakeholders during the public hearings, no scrutiny of More’s Year-to-Year Roll-Out Plan (because More had no Plan). No debates.

What about the royal treatment? Notice, Reader, that we started out with Tambunting’s HB 8132, and ended with HB 8302? What happened?

That’s the royal treatment. HB 8302 was substituted for HB 8132. What were the differences between the two? Well, the name of the corporation was now changed. The More Minerals Corp. in HB 8132 became the More Electric and Power Corp. in HB 8302. That More, never ever having been in the electric power distribution business, had no assets, facilities, employees equipped to conduct the business, did not faze Congress one bit. It solved the problem by granting and authorizing More, in HB 8302, the right “to exercise the power of eminent domain” and to “acquire such private property as is necessary for the realization of the purpose for which the franchise is granted.”

Since these assets, facilities and employees are not just lying around for the picking, what HB 8302 essentially says is that More can get them from the previous distributor (whose franchise had not been renewed).  That distributor would be the Panay Electric Co. (Peco). Sounds like a Congress-authorized takeover of Peco by More. Grave abuse of power?

Reader, let me tell you about Peco. Unlike More with zero experience, Peco has been in the distribution business for 95 years, and all that time serving Iloilo City.

Has Peco abused that relationship with the Ilonggos?  Let’s hear it from objective outsiders: In 2014, the Department of Energy awarded a plaque of commendation to Peco for its support in ensuring the reliability of the Visayas power supply. In 2015, the Energy Regulatory Commission, through its Distribution Management Committee, awarded Peco (one out of only four) for being 100-percent compliant with its standards.

Moreover, Peco is considered one of the top performing distribution utilities (20th out of 146 in the country) in terms of power reliability, as shown by its System Average Interruption Frequency Data.

I also looked at its distribution charges and per-kilowatt-hour charges and compared them with other distribution utilities; they are not at all out of line.

So how has Congress treated Peco compared to More? HB 6023, which would renew the franchise of Peco, was submitted in July 2017—a full 13 months before More’s HB 8132. As of today, it has yet to have a third hearing by the franchise committee. And it was barred from the More hearings. And More was given the franchise.

In other words, Peco has gotten unspeedy and unroyal treatment, while More got the opposite. Why?