Sunday, January 12, 2014

ALECO receives disconnection notice anew


Already saddled with a four-month-old labor strike, the Albay Electric Cooperative (Aleco) is now facing another problem after it received on Wednesday a power disconnection notice for its failure to settle last year’s outstanding power bills amounting to P300 million, an Aleco official said.

According to lawyer John Fernandez, vice chairman of the Aleco interim board, the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) served on Wednesday a notice that it would be forced to cut off power in the entire Albay if the electric cooperative would fail to settle its accounts within five days upon receipt of the notice received Friday, Jan. 10.

Fernandez said the cooperative has to settle its P300-million cumulative unpaid power bills for the months of September, October and November with the Philippine Electricity Market Corp., the cooperative’s current power provider.

“Failure to settle this account would mean power blackout probably on Monday,” he disclosed.

Fernandez said the Aleco management could have settled the account had it not been for the on-going labor strike that had hindered the billing and collection operations of the cooperative.

Tension has gripped the cooperative since Monday here as striking workers supported by the Albay Multi-Sectoral Stakeholders Organization (AMSSO) set up a blockade at the gate of the compound, preventing employees to report for work and consumers from transacting business and paying their accounts with the cooperative.

Earlier on Monday, the strike went out of control when the strikers reportedly prevented and manhandled Aleco employees who wanted to report for work.

The Legazpi City Police Office riot squad was present during the heated confrontation that occurred but both camps reportedly expressed dismay over the inability of the law enforces to prevent and control it.

At least 70 members of the Aleco Employees Union (ALEU) went on strike in September last year, put up a strike holding area in front of the Aleco entrance gate and have held on to their grounds until now.

The striking workers are not in favor of the takeover of the San Miguel Energy Corp, (SMEC), the lone bidder of a concession contract agreement, which was awarded by the Aleco interim board chaired by Albay Bishop Joel Baylon to run the electric cooperative for 25 years.

The striking workers also accused the Aleco management of violating provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement signed by both parties.

Lawyer Nathaniel Lacambra, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Bicol regional director, called for a closed-door mediation meeting on Wednesday with the officers of the ALEU.

Legazpi City Noel Rosal said the case is being heard for arbitration as the issue on public interest is at stake.

He said a return-to-work order will be issued by the DOLE secretary.

Rosal said the return-to-work order would bring back normalcy to Aleco transactions and would also fast track the billing and collection processes to meet the settlement of the P300-million outstanding power bills with PEMC.

Aleco has a total of 450 personnel; of this total, 213 were rehired and the rest given separation pay.

Some P280 million was earmarked by SMEC for separation pay but only P70 million (25 percent) has been used for this purpose.

The AMMSO, led by lawyers Bartolome Rayco and Rechie Regala, is supporting the strikers, aside from providing them legal assistance.

The group also opposes the takeover by SMEC.

The Rayco-led AMMSO allegedly accused the Aleco interim board of withholding to the public the concession agreement contract signed by SMEC and Aleco on Oct. 29, last year.

Rayco even demanded that the Aleco provide them with a copy of the signed contract.

He expressed doubt that the Aleco interim board has been hiding the contract because, according to him, some of the provisions run counter to what was stipulated in the terms of reference crafted by the Aleco Board.

Along this line, Rosal on Wednesday met with the strike leaders and handed a copy of the concession contract to lawyer Donna Escio of the National Union of People’s Lawyers.

He said he is hoping that with the copy of the contract they were demanding, the strikers will start to end the four-month-long strike.

Escio said the contract will be thoroughly reviewed as to whether it indeed conforms to the provisions in terms of reference crafted by the Aleco interim board.

She said the strike will continue while they are still reviewing the contract.

As this developed, Ellen Go, SMC Global Power general manager, said in a letter to the Aleco interim board through lawyer Veronica Briones, Aleco project supervisor, that the assumption of full operation of Aleco set on Tuesday will be deferred until such time that, according to her, “we receive sufficient guarantees which will ensure our peaceful, continuous and uninterrupted possession of the distribution system, which is one of the obligations of Aleco under the concession agreement.”

Go said she hopes that Aleco can reconcile the divergent factions that led to the present disturbance in the business, as the company is committed to assist Aleco in transforming it into an efficient and viable power distribution utility.(PNA) CTB/FGS/MSA/CBD/PJN

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