Pole fires in Iloilo blamed on jumpers

August 05, 2020

INCIDENTS of fire caused by illegal electricity connections in Iloilo City reached disastrous proportions in the past 10 years because of “jumpers” estimated to have reached 30,000 by January 2020, civic leaders here said the other day. 

The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) in Iloilo City had recorded nearly 3,000 cases of electricity pole fires in the past five years under Panay Electric Co. (PECO), many of which were caused by illegal electricity connections.

By contrast, no incident of fire occurred in Iloilo City when the utility More Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power) took over in March this year, the civic leaders noted in “The Community Energy Forum 2020” at the Hotel Del Rio last Tuesday.

According to Iloilo East Baluarte Barangay Chairman Gary Patnubay, “jumpers” were the main cause of the fires and about 30 to 40 percent of his constituents were involved in illegal connections.

Patnubay said that with the entry of MORE Power, the company initiated a program to legalize the illegal connections by making it easy for the residents of the barangay to apply for connections.

He said even some wealthy residents were found to have illegal connections but to date, 75 percent of East Baluarte residents have applied for connection.

“I’ve been very hands-on in assisting my constituents in these processes and I can say that those who have been in the illegal connections are now moving to become legitimate consumers of electricity which only proves that MORE Power is indeed in the right direction,” said Patnubay.

“What happened during the time of PECO, PECO wants them to pay the unpaid bills and fine in full utang. PECO does not allow staggered payments so the residents were forced to illegally connect. These illegal connections are not monitored by PECO because they have a weak monitoring system thus this is why illegal connections increased,” he said.

A technical study of MIESCOR Engineering Services Corp showed that there are around 30,000 illegal connections in Iloilo, which could be attributed to the 9.3 percent system loss of the city.

Aside from illegal connections, the Bureau of Fire Protection  reported to the Energy Regulatory Commission that more than half of  fire incidents in Iloilo City came from pole fires.

From January 1, 2014 to October 29, 2019, BFP reported that there were 2,887 fire incidents of which 1,464 or 51.187 percent came from pole fires of PECO.

BFP said the pole fires were due to the short circuit from exposed electricity wires and overloading due to illegal connections.

ERC is investigating the pole fires after Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas expressed alarm over the incidents which could pose a hazard to city residents. 

Meanwhile, Ariel Castañeda, chief of the Apprehension Team of More Power said the door to door crackdown of “Oplan Valeria” in the past two weeks revealed some 3,000 residents engaged in illegal connection.

“Apprehending illegal electric connections is a taxing task and most definitely involves the greatest risk on the part of the apprehenders but the efforts to rid the city of illegal connections are certainly paying off,” said Castañeda.

“For about two weeks of operations, we were able to apprehend more or less 3,000 illegal connections or jumpers, about 1,000 of which we have already converted to load applications. Of the said number, 600 already went to the City Engineer’s Office (CEO) to secure the needed requirements while 400 have already paid for new connections,” he said. 

Castañeda said MORE Power endeavors to further fast-track the process of applying for new connections, even as the city government has vowed to streamline their own processes.

MORE Power president Roel Castroappealed to Iloilo City residents to refrain from illegal connections as they risk being arrested and pay a fine of P120,000.

He said MORE Power has made it easier and faster for residents to connect and avail of the services of the company under the I-Connect project in cooperation with the local government units and barangays.

MORE Power  also launched the Community Energy Forum, a regular platform that aims to promote transparency and address consumer concerns.

“We thank  MORE Power for initiating this campaign and we understand that it is a campaign to change the old system where power pilferers are rampant in our city. On our end, we are in full support of this program because we know that it is the righteous thing to do,” Pastor Nestor Gonzales said.

For his part, Division Federated Parents Teachers Association (DFPTA) president Roger Calzado said MORE Power’s accessibility to consumers has greatly helped given that it previously takes PECO about three days to reconnect power supply while the new distributor takes around two hours.

DFPTA also lauded the active information dissemination of MORE Power on the scheduled brownouts due to preventive works compared to the time of  PECO  where the hotline numbers did not work.

Halley Alcarde, representative of the transport sector of Iloilo City, meanwhile, described the recent campaign of MORE Power as a “big thing” which PECO has failed to implement during its time.