• Abra still in the dark after typhoon ‘Lawin’

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    BANGUED, Abra: The province is still veiled in darkness almost a week after Super Typhoon Lawin toppled many electric posts in this province, further adding to the financial burden of Abra Electric Cooperative (Abreco) even as it is being hounded by huge debts that ballooned from P300 million to over P500 million in the last three years.

    Damage caused by Lawin to the distribution utility has reached P60 million.

    Abreco general manager Loreto Seares Jr. said electricity supply might be restored in the capital Bangued today, Wednesday, while the rest of the province will have to wait for a few more days, as restoration efforts are being doubled.

    The Abreco management, while giving its best efforts to overcome the destruction caused by Lawin, asked for more understanding from its more than 30,000 consumer-members.

    Of late, Abreco has traced its fiscal woes to financial abuses by its past management.

    The Department of Energy (DOE) under the Duterte administration has formed a task force to resolve the debt issues of ailing electric cooperatives (ECs) throughout the country.

    While some blamed the current Abreco management for its precarious financial situation, government records show that it has incurred debts for a decade already.

    Documents obtained from the National Electrification Administration (NEA), the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) and other government agencies showed that Abreco started bleeding way back in 2005 with monthly losses averaging P250,000.

    The new management took over in October 2007.

    The bulk of the multi-million debts are owed to Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management (Psalm), which took over from the privatized Napocor with the passage of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira).

    The Psalm board of directors approved the condonation of Abreco’s mini-hydro loan and dendro-thermal loan of P24 million and P87.9 million, respectively or a total of over P112 million.

    In its final compliance report, however, only P207.9 million of Abreco’s total fund electrification loans from NEA was recommended for condonation.

    Hence, the new administration inherited the P88.9 million that was not condoned, including interest that remains an outstanding obligation of the power cooperative.

    Consumers suspected that these multi-million peso loans were “ghost projects” of the cooperative’s past management.

    From over P114 million in 2006, Abreco’s debts to Psalm grew to P335 million by 2014 and about P500 million in 2015.

    These were considered “power bills” to Napocor incurred from 1997 to 2007.

    Government records also showed that the P25 million that Abreco borrowed from the NEA in 2003 grew to P35 million in January 2016 after it stopped paying amortization, including interest and surcharges.

    In March 2007 it registered with the Cooperative Development Authority as the old management’s strategy to “escape” from its obligations to NEA.

    Abreco suffered power shutdowns in 2012, 2013 and 2014 owing to its accumulated unpaid bills and loan obligations.

    The current management has since been at the receiving end of the power cooperative’s fiscal irregularities, also prompting alleged “dirty politics” to come into play.

    “We could weather it out if member-consumers band together and understand the root of these problems and find solutions to plug such malpractices in running the cooperative,” a member-consumer said.

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