FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - December 27, 2018 - 12:00am

Just weeks from now, on Jan. 19, power distribution services in Iloilo City and environs will transfer from Panay Electric Company (PECO) to MORE Power Corp. Both chambers of Congress decided not to renew PECO’s franchise and award the same to MORE.

This decision was taken after our legislators considered the complaints of local government officials and disgruntled customers against PECO, a private company that enjoyed a monopoly of power distribution in the locality. The complainants presented evidence PECO abused its franchise by serving its clientele badly.

For years, electricity in Iloilo was the costliest in the world. Instead of investing in better technology to improve services, the local monopoly chose to pay hefty dividends to its owners. Service was consistently bad, with mounting complaints of unstable electricity supply and overcharging. Evidence was found that the distribution utility purchased power from an allied generating company even if no electricity was supplied.

Although there is now no possibility that PECO can get its franchise renewed, it appears that groups associated with the old distribution monopoly are not yielding to the transfer peacefully. If they could not fend off the new distributor in the area, they will try to discredit the manner Congress and the Executive Branch arrived at its franchise decision.

Recently, a public relations consultant who previously worked for the ill-fated Mar Roxas presidential campaign put out a fake letter in his Facebook page. That letter, purportedly sent by House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, “commands” the chair of the House franchise committee to attend a bicameral committee meeting in a hotel venue supposedly arranged by the businessman associated with MORE. The letter, breaking all the usual protocols, mentions that President Duterte was eager to sign on the new franchise.

Everything about the letter is fake. It is badly written. The supposed signature of Speaker Arroyo is a poor copy. The contents of the letter run completely against the usual assiduousness, prudence and care that characterize the work habits of the Speaker.

This is so obviously the start of a disinformation campaign to discredit the award of the power distribution franchise. It seeks to portray the award as the product of collusion between the President, the Speaker and the business tycoon who owns the new distribution player taking over PECO’s turf.

The tactical goal of this disinformation campaign is difficult to divine. It could not possibly reverse the congressional decision, one that was passed unanimously at the Senate.

What is clear is that the person whose job is to smear mud on everyone else resorts to cheap and lousy propaganda. The result, not surprisingly, is pure rant.

Ranting, we know, convinces no one.


We have heard of the DPWH tearing up perfectly workable roads and repairing them just to spend public funds senselessly. The agency, it seems, has leveled up. Now they want to tear up a perfectly workable bridge to replace it with another.

The bridge in question is the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge, sometimes called the “Rockwell Bridge.” The bridge will be dismantled on Jan. 12.  It will be out of commission for 30 months – if we are lucky. The 100,000 vehicles that cross it daily will be forced to move to the old Guadalupe Bridge. Traffic flow along Edsa will worsen from horrific to horrendous.

The bridge due to be dismantled is the youngest of all the bridges that span the Pasig River. Built in 2011, with generous support from the Austrian government, the bridge is only eight years old. Now they want to replace that with a bridge donated by the Chinese government.

Although narrower than it possibly should be, the bridge feeds vehicular traffic onto narrow streets on both the Mandaluyong and Makati sides. Even if widened, the narrow streets cannot possibly handle the traffic flow.

We probably need at least a dozen new bridges across the Pasig River that divides our megalopolis into two congested halves. We need at least two to link the BGC area to Pasig to lessen the load on Guadalupe Bridge – which, by the way, is in more urgent need of rehab.

Why we need to tear down a perfectly functioning bridge when we need a dozen new ones escapes me.

What we know is that the bridge at Rockwell will be replaced as part of a two-bridge grant from Beijing. The other one crosses from Binondo to Intramuros, very close to two existing bridges and served by even narrower streets on either side.

The Binondo bridge project is at least justifiable for its symbolism. Centuries ago, the Spaniards drove Chinese settlers away from the Walled City to the other side of the Pasig River. This new bridge symbolizes a reconnection of sorts.

The Rockwell Bridge, on the other had, has no symbolic or engineering value. A new bridge crossing from BGC to Pasig City will have greater impact on improving traffic flow. Both bridges will be useful when the time comes to finally repair the creaky Guadalupe Bridge.

Two Chinese companies will undertake the projet: the CCCC Highway Consultants Co. and the China Road and Bridge Corp. While, no doubt, some jobs will be created for Filipinos working on the two projects, this does not establish optimality.

The Rockwell Bridge was supposed to have been closed a few months ago. Strong public opposition forced it to be rescheduled for next month, after the Christmas rush is done. That does not mean public opposition will subside.

It should not be too late to rethink this senseless project.

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