The entire province of Albay was left groping in the dark on Tuesday after the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) ordered the province’s power cut off because of the unpaid P1.4 billion debt of the Albay Electric Cooperative (Aleco) which supplies electricity to the province.
Albay Rep. Edcel “Grex” Lagman, Jr. said that 15 towns and three cities were without electricity.
Lagman said it was the Philippine Electricity Market Corporation (PEMC), the operator of the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM), that wanted the province taken off the grid. The PEMC Board is chaired by Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla.
Aleco, the seventh largest electric cooperative in the country, has been saddled with financial problems for years. Its debts to electricity service providers and the National Electrification Administration (NEA) have ballooned to almost P4 billion.
“This is a very sad and dark day for Albayanos. Despite being the energy-richest province in the country with two geothermal energy resources, we will be without electricity in the coming days. We are used to devastations brought about by typhoons and volcanic eruptions but this will be the first time a man-made disaster such as this will hit our province,” Lagman lamented.
“Aleco has been in dire straits financially for many years but then, what has the provincial government done to rectify this? On the contrary, a top local politician has politicized Aleco leading to mismanagement, corruption and financial woes,” Lagman added.
Lagman did not name names, but Albay’s top official is Gov. Joey Salceda, who is a member of the ruling Liberal Party.
“I appeal to Secretary Petilla, Chairperson of the PEMC Board, to immediately restore electric power service in my province to spare paying consumers and the economy from the delinquencies of the old Aleco board and its political patron. He should likewise look into the merits of the various proposals to bail out Aleco, including privatization,” Lagman, the son of former House minority leader Edcel Lagman, said.
The lawmaker sought a congressional inquiry into the Aleco mess, saying that other electric cooperatives in the country “may be in the same boat or are headed there.’’
The blackout triggered an outcry from the populace, with critics blaming Aleco’s previous management for its inefficient leadership, high system losses at the rate of 24 to 27 percent or about P27 million a month, poor collection, power pilferage, antiquated power transformers and alleged corruption.
Petilla had pleaded with Aleco to partially settle its debt but the cooperative failed to raise enough money.
According to Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal, the mayors’ league had asked that the power disconnection be deferred by two more days hoping Aleco would be able to gather funds to pay its current bill of P67 million.
Salceda meanwhile said he tried to have a selective reconnection but failed.
“Yes it is a disconnection which we were able to hold at bay for 15 years with state owned Napocor and three years with private PEMC. I did my best. Aleco had to pay only the current (bill),” he told The Manila Times.
“I am working hard and pleading with energy authorities and corporate boards to secure an “immediate selective reconnection” because a disconnection has inevitable disruptive economic impacts and bad signals on the Albay image to our national and global constituencies. But it would be worse, if this sorry event would not prompt long term reforms to secure that these would not recur and if possible Aleco would become a positive force in Albay,” he said.
“Selective reconnection” means some 100 heavy loads will no longer be serviced, Salceda explained. “Immediate” means in “as early as two days” but “no more than 1 week” because the poor who share no blame “are made to pay for the sins of the oppressive rich who pursue unli-profit on the back of the ordinary working families,” Salceda said.
WITH A REPORT FROM MANNY UGALDE