SC votes in favor of MORE in Iloilo City 'power struggle'
MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court voted in favor of MORE Electric and Power Corporation to authorize its operation of assets of Panay Electric Company Inc. (PECO) to distribute electricity in Iloilo City.
“The Supreme Court En Banc ruled yesterday, 15 September 2020, in favor of MORE Electric and Power Corporation,” SC spokesperson Brian Hosaka said.
The decision, reached in a close voting of 8-6, resolved the separate petitions filed by the two electric companies that assailed clashing rulings from the Iloilo and Mandaluyong Regional Trial Courts.
MORE won its expropriation case against PECO in the Iloilo court, while PECO scored a win at the Mandaluyong court as it held provisions of MORE’s franchise law as unconstitutional.
“In granting the petitions, the Supreme Court reversed the Judgment of the Regional Trial Court of Mandaluyong Branch 209... and declared Section 10 and 17 of Republic Act 11212 as unconstitutional,” Hosaka added.
Associate Justices Marvic Leonen, Amy Lazaro-Javier, Henri Jean Paul Inting, Rodil Zalameda, Mario Lopez, and Samuel Gaerlan dissented from the majority vote.
Justice Priscilla Baltazar-Padilla did not take part in the voting.
RA 11212 is MORE’s franchise law, which the Razon-owned company secured from the Congress and President Rodrigo Duterte in February 2019—a month after PECO’s franchise expired on Jan. 18, 2019.
Under the law, MORE Power can take over distribution assets and other properties so it can distribute electricity in Iloilo City. Section 10 of the law states that MORE “is authorized to exercise the power of eminent domain insofar as it may be reasonably necessary for the efficient establishment, improvement, upgrading, rehabilitation, maintenance and operation of its services.”
At the time of grant of franchise to MORE, the Department of Energy and the Energy Regulatory Commission agreed to allow PECO to operate while the resolution of their franchise bid is pending. This was to ensure continued power service to Iloilo City.
PECO won at the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court on July 1, 2019 where it declared the two sections of the MORE’s franchise law as unconstitutional. Meanwhile, MORE won a favorable ruling on its expropriation case from the Iloilo Court in August 2019.
PECO eventually failed to secure a fresh franchise from the Congress in September 2019.
The SC, in December 2019, issued a temporary restraining order against the Mandaluyong RTC while it resolves MORE’s petition.
In March 2020, the ERC revoked the provisional certificate of public convenience and necessity it gave to PECO
PECO lawyer: Ruling will have consequence on power of expropriation
Lawyer Estrella Elamparo, counsel for PECO, said that while they are saddened at their loss at the SC, “it was a close vote on a novel issue that had never been raised before our Highest Court.” She added that the ruling “will certainly have reverberating consequences that open the power of expropriation to abuse.”
“The tight vote lends support to our position that the takeover of PECO’s properties is not the exercise of eminent domain contemplated by our laws, but a violation of constitutional rights, Elamparo added.
She also noted that the ponente or the justice who penned the ruling proceeded with the decision even he was just four days away from retiring.
The lawyer did not identify the ponente, but Associate Justice Jose Reyes Jr. is set to officially hang up his robes on September 18.
Hosaka has yet to disclose who wrote the main ruling.
“Although this is a massive hurdle, we will not give up on our fight and we will continue to pursue the available legal remedies to defend PECO’s constitutional rights. Despite this temporary setback, we remain optimistic that we will ultimately be vindicated not just for PECO but for the people of Iloilo,” she added. — Kristine Joy Patag with reports from The STAR/Danessa Rivera