By MANLY M UGALDE
LEGAZPI CITY: To save the second biggest power cooperative from total collapse, which is also touted as among the 10th worst and heavily graft-ridden, the Albay Electric Cooperative (Aleco) of 250,000 consumers is finally heading for privatization.
But the local Justice Retribution Restitution Coalition (JRRC) cries foul saying the privatization efforts is the brainchild of a few people in the government with vested interest and being seconded by those whose brains are merely dependent from the perpetrators.
JRRC is backed by professionals and businessmen against the National Electrification Administration (NEA) and Aleco abuses.
It said it had written President Aquino requesting for a dialogue to prevent the privatization, said Engr Melvin Romano, JRRC president.
Aleco-NEA appointed General Manager Rey Reverente would not answer calls and text messages for confirmation but Aleco Employees Union president Dexter Brutas was quoted by JRRC officials that Aleco-NEA executives have began ironing out the privatization program with apparent consent from the Aleco interim board of directors headed by Legazpi Diocese Bishop Joel Baylon.
According to JRRC vice-president and former Albay vice-governor James Calisin, Aleco privatization was earlier raised by Gov Joey Sarte Salceda in 2010 after NEA and the National Power Corporation performed Aleco rehabilitation in 2007 and in 2008-09 which the Albay governor rated the performance as poor.
The privatization proposal, however, was rejected by the church and multi-sectoral groups outright.
A church-led Aleco crisis management committee was created in early 2011 when the consumers-elected Aleco board of directors was forced to resign by Salceda as a condition for NEA to take over control of Aleco management to save it from the eminent collapse.
Early last year, however, the church-led committee had been abolished in favor of a newly created interim appointed board of directors also headed by Bishop Baylon.
JRRC officers said Aleco and NEA have already prepared the terms of reference for the privatization, which is backed by the now silent Albay congressmen, local officials, including the controversial Ako Bicol party-list who had described Aleco in 2010 as worst-corrupt, mismanaged and recommended for criminal prosecutions.
Among the developments in Aleco under NEA management control was the creation of the Special Payment Arrangement (SPA) of 10% in consumers' monthly billings, started in 2011 to raise funds for the settlement of the now P1.3 billion account from power generators.
Aleco debts stands at close to P4 billion with consumers complaining of frequent brownouts, high system losses, padded billing and constant threat of power cut-off due to failure to settle power bills from the Wholesale Electric Spot Market (WESM). SPA, according to JRRC has been rejected by the Energy Regulatory Board but collections continue as seen in the consumers' monthly billings. It would end in December 2014.
According to the JRRC officers, Aleco has all the leeway to recover as a cooperative if only it is rightfully managed.
They lamented that NEA could not even liquidate the P250 million Calamity Assistance Rehabilitation Efforts (CARE) spent for Aleco rehabilitation in 2007 after Aleco was devastated by Typhoon Reming in Nov 2006.
JRRC officers said the P250-million fund was exclusively handled by NEA without Aleco participation by appointing a local project supervisor who was terminated after the project.
A year later, Aleco was put again under NPC operational and maintenance control.
The JRRC said the NEA scandalous handling of the P250 million CARE funds forced an Aleco general manager to retire to silence him, however, with a reward of P10 million worth of junks for his disposal as pabaon.
Engr Romano explained that Aleco had technically settled its obligations with WESM, the source of funds he said came from the P1.66 power rate increase in 2010 proposed by Salceda.
He said that despite rejection by the ERC, the P1.66 rate increase had in fact been included in the monthly billings in the guise of other inserted charges.
Romano computed that in two and a half years, the collection from P1.66 rate increase has already reached P1.4 billion.
Where is this fund now that we continue bullying consumers about the P1.3 billion WESM bills, asked Romano during a hastily called press conference here recently by imposing the illegal SPA.
The JRRC said the continuous bleeding of Aleco is a grand conspiracy which started three decades ago.
JRRC said it is offering that Aleco be divorced instead with NEA and remarry with the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) under the Office of the President saying under CDA, Aleco would have a better breathing space in terms of operational benefits.
He said that their CDA proposal, however, had been strongly objected by NEA for unknown reason.
Romano and Calisin said the JRRC is offering a public debate with Aleco, NEA, ERC and DOE combined, saying “we have the facts to present so that the public would know about the real status of Aleco and how it is bled.
They said it must be a public debate, adding that there are now certain groups instigating consumers to resort to a militant and drastic move.
The name of the Aboitiz Group which now owned the Tiwi (Albay) geothermal is ringing closer as reportedly offered and got interest to buy Aleco, the JRRC official said.
They said Aleco-NEA management is making a fool of the consumers citing a report about at least five big firms, two of them owned by a congressman and a party-list congressman who were initially uncovered of having tampered meters with a computed stolen power of P35 million.
The JRRC said Aleco would not file criminal charges and continue refusing to bare violators' identities against small consumers who are immediately disconnected on failure to settle a one month bill.
Imagine this illegal SPA payment imposed with small-time consumers bullied of disconnection upon mere delay in payment, the JRRC lamented.
JRRC said Aleco have inserted so many charges they claimed estafa in nature, which ERC and NEA did not resist.
Now, JRRC said consumers do not know where to seek justice, citing a poor consumer who was forced to settle five billings which he claimed had surged to 10 times higher than his usual monthly bills at P50 average and without the findings of pilferage or damaged meter.
Until now this consumer, which is among the thousands of victims, has not been refunded in Tabaco City, the JRRC said. - Bicol Mail