THE Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has directed the Visayan Electric Company to conduct a "prompt and thorough investigation of the alleged rampant extortion reports" during the power supply restoration efforts in Metro Cebu in the wake of Typhoon Odette (Rai).

The ERC gathered the reports from the field and social media.

In a statement, ERC Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer Agnes VST Devanadera said they have directed Visayan Electric to conduct "a prompt and thorough investigation of the matter and submit the result to the Commission in writing within 15 days from receipt of our directive."

Devanedara said the extortion incidents reported to the ERC involving either Visayan Electric "contractors or volunteers or both allegedly extorting money from consumers to expedite the restoration of their electricity are alarming and need the immediate appropriate action" by Visayan Electric.

The ERC also directed Visayan Electric to "include in its report the actions taken against those involved, if any, and the measures put in place to prevent extortion from being committed."

The power distributor was also instructed to expedite the restoration of electricity in its franchise area and inform the ERC and its consumers of the progress of its restoration, including the challenges encountered.

The ERC received reports that the delay in restoring electricity in Cebu is not due to the damaged distribution lines, but due to the alleged rampant bribery and corruption of some people who prioritize the restoration of electricity of those who offer money.

“These reports of alleged extortion are truly disturbing and we cannot just disregard or take these things sitting down. We enjoin (Visayan Electric) to use the necessary means to obtain a thorough, comprehensive, and unbiased finding/s, including the use of witnesses’ testimony when available," Devanadera said.

In response, Quennie Bronce, head of Visayan Electric’s reputation enhancement department, told SunStar Cebu: “Yes, we have received the order from the ERC. We are also coordinating with NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) about this.”

Typhoon Odette hit Cebu on Dec. 16, 2021, causing a blackout after it downed power lines.

As of 12 noon Thursday, Jan. 20, Visayan Electric had energized 377,555 or 79.6 percent of its 474,182 affected customers, leaving 96,627 customers still without electricity five weeks after the storm.

Visayan Electric covers the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, Talisay, Naga and the municipalities of Liloan, Consolacion, Minglanilla and San Fernando in metro Cebu.

In a statement posted on its Facebook page last Jan. 4, Visayan Electric said it does not collect fees for energization or repair of collapsed poles or downed lines.

It asked the public to report any personnel offering energization or repair for a fee, to 230-8326 or through a message on its Facebook page, providing the “extortionist's full name, date and time, plate number of vehicle used, photo/video (if available), payment details, customer’s name, contact number, and account ID and account name.”

It also said it would not be liable for any damage or loss arising out of unauthorized re-energization arrangements entered into by customers. / KAL, JKV