LEGAZPI CITY: For over a year now, some 250,000 power consumers of the bankrupt Albay Electric Cooperative (Aleco) have been making advance payments inserted in their monthly billing and many of them were not even aware of the scheme.
Called the Special Payment Agreement (SPA), the scheme according to Aleco officials was a result of a special assembly held among consumers February last year.
Collection of SPA was started in September 2011 and to end in August 2014.
The so-called SPA was intended to settle Aleco’s close to P1 billion in outstanding bills being demanded by power suppliers.
Under the agreement, consumers may use their SPA payments for future bills without any interest.
But many residents complained they were not aware of the alleged assembly and that if ever there was one, it could have been attended by only a few, in connivance with the inefficient officers of the problematic local electric cooperative.
They lamented that Aleco bills consisted of inserted charges that they were never aware of until they were exposed in media reports. An Aleco official said there were some 200 consumers who attended the special district assembly.
But this number appears to be only a drop in the total number of power consumers in the power coop’s coverage area which consisted of the three congressional districts of the entire province of Albay.
Aleco has been placed once again under the management control of the National Electrification Administration early last year in an effort by local officials headed by Albay Gov Joey Sarte Salceda to save it from total collapse.
Three years ago, Salceda proposed that Aleco be privatized but this was rebuked by certain consumer groups, which included the church.
Aleco officials and the members of its Board had been accused of gross mismanagement and graft and corruption that led to the problematic situation that the power coop is now in.
Consumers said they should not suffer for the crimes committed by previous Aleco officials.
They said the SPA being collected which represents 10 percent of their monthly bill is highly immoral.
Consumers also complained about the alleged padded billing being imposed by Aleco collectors, else they face power disconnection.
A pastor complained she used to pay P2,000 for her prayer center every month but was surprised when her latest monthly bill ballooned to P10,000.
She said despite her protest, she was forced to pay or face disconnection.
A certain Generoso Butial who stays alone in his house in Tabaco City and uses power only during nighttime said he used to pay a monthly bill of P50.
All of the sudden, he said he received a bill of more than P500, followed by P400-plus, then P500-plus, P300-plus, then P90.
He said he filed a complaint and his meter was taken out by Aleco personnel for examination after investigation yielded no findings of possible pilferages from other sources.
Bishop Joel Baylon, chair of Aleco Crisis Management Committee appealed to consumers to support the SPA saying it was the only noble way to share in settling Aleco bills lest the whole power coop face disconnection by its power suppliers.
Earlier, Energy Secretary Almendras warned that by December this year, Albay may suffer power disconnection unless Aleco could come up with at least P1 billion to settle its obligations with the power suppliers and producers.
A crisis management committee, in partnership with NEA supervisors, was created following the abolition of the Aleco board of directors in an effort to formulate management solution for the ailing Aleco.
Bishop Baylon admitted that many have rejected the SPA scheme because consumers have the option anyway to disregard SPA in paying their monthly bills.
With the controversy on the SPA, Bishop Baylon said Aleco may hardly reach 20% of the targeted collection by December 2012.
He added that since the SPA scheme, only P158 million has been collected as of August 2012. – Bicol Mail