By Danny O. Calleja
LEGAZPI CITY, 6Aug2013 – The plan being carried out by the National Electrification Administration (NEA) to privatize Albay Electric Cooperative (Aleco) has engaged Albayanos in a clash of opinions — divided between the rich, in favor, and the poor, against.
The plan has become a burning issue in the wake of the recent power supply cut-off in the entire province as a measure of the Philippine Electricity Market Corp. (PEMC) to compel Aleco, the third biggest electric cooperative but touted as among the 10 worst in country, to settle unpaid electricity bills amounting to over P1 billion.
The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) cut off the power at noontime Wednesday last week and restored it after 29 hours on interventions made by City Mayor Noel Rosal as head of the province’s League of Cities, Albay 3rd district congressman Fernando Gonzales and Governor Joey Salceda.
“As Albay Governor, I support the ongoing NEA-managed process of privatization of Aleco management to achieve our second goal after the power restoration: ensure continuous supply of power. We are grateful to Department of Energy Secretary Ikot (Jericho Petilla) for his kindness and we support his energy reforms,” Salceda said.
“History is on the side of privatization. I have not seen Meralco, Aboitiz, SM group-Chevron or SMC na pinutulan ng kuryente,” Salceda said, adding that in the privatization scheme, only the management will be given to corporations as Aleco is already private being not a public institution.
While Albay was groping in the dark Wednesday, Petilla said Aleco, to stay in operation, must have new management and four firms — among them industry giants San Miguel Corp., Manila Electric Co. and Aboitiz Power Corp — want to take on the challenge and take over the cooperative’s total debt amounting to some P4 billion.
The privatization, however, will depend on Albay residents as it is owned by the people of the province and its fate belongs to Albayanos, Petilla added.
“Kapag nangyari ang privatization ng Aleco, mararanasan nating mga taga-Albay ang nararanasan ng mga nasasakupan ng Meralco (should privatization take place, we, Albay people, will be made to experience what those covered by Meralco are experiencing), high power cost that keeps on increasing,” Gardo Paquia, a trucker from Daraga, Albay, said.
Lawyer Oliver Olaybal of Guinobatan town who once served as Aleco board of directors chair, suggested that instead of bidding out Aleco’s franchise to third parties, Aleco should try corporate finance in addressing its money problems.
This means that Aleco should convert itself from non-stock to stock corporation for registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission instead of NEA so that it could raise interest-free capital of as much as P5 billion, through stock issuance to members.
This, Olaybal said, is authorized under Sec. 57 of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) but was thumbed down by Bishop Joel Baylon of the Diocese of Legazpi who now acts as Aleco interim board chair, saying it is a different ball game, and nothing could change their decision to give away Aleco’s business — including the utilization of the firm’s assets.
“The problem is that neither Aleco nor its interim board is authorized by law to sub-contract the operation of Aleco’s franchise as under the EPIRA, only the Congress of the Philippines may grant or modify Aleco’s franchise,” Olaybal said.
Most certainly, this issue will be ventilated in court by certain sectors — given the circumstance that no new directors were elected to replace the resigned directors, so that the so-called interim board would have no legal personality to even make the proposal, assuming that Congress had delegated to Aleco or the interim board the authority to transfer the operation of its franchise to third parties, he added.
“Ano kaya kung kahit minsan man lang ay maging makatao ang ating mga congressman na gamitin ang kanilang pork barrel to help Aleco settle its debts. Let’s see if they let go of the money from their hands,” Eleonor Mesa, a dressmaker here, said.
The Albay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, on the other hand, said it favors the NEA plan as it was about time to privatize Aleco. It said no way could the coop survive under a very mismanaged situation. (PNA)