Move heaven and earth to fast track power restoration in Albay, priests ask Salceda

LEGAZPI CITY – Local parish priests have asked Albay Governor Joey Salceda, considered as among the authors of the privatization of Albay Electric Cooperative (Aleco) into the hands of San Miguel Corp. (SMC), to “move heaven and earth” to hasten the restoration of power in the province.


“We appeal to Governor Salceda, considered among the authors and avid supporters of privatization, to do more than what he is presently doing and move heaven and earth to hasten power restoration in Albay for the sake of our suffering people,” the priests said in an open letter circulated in the province over the week.

The letter was signed by 45 Albay-based priests headed by Msgr. Ramon Tronqued, St. Raphael de Archangel Parish priest and vicar general of the Diocese of Legazpi.

Apart from Salceda, the letter was also addressed to Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Jericho Petilla, the management of Albay Power and Energy Corp. (APEC) and to “the Big Bosses of San Miguel Corp. (SMC).”

APEC is a fully-owned and -controlled subsidiary of SMC Global Power Holdings Corp., created to run the affairs of the cooperative after the giant firm took control of the business and operations of Aleco early this year.

The hand-over was facilitated with the backing of Salceda by Petilla and Albay Bishop Joel Baylon, then acting as head of the interim board of Aleco appointed by the National Electrification Administration (NEA) which, for nearly 10 years, ran the cooperative after taking over from its local management.

These changes in the management of Aleco developed amid the huge financial difficulties suffered by Aleco, one of the biggest power cooperatives in the country that has incurred about Php 4 billion in unpaid obligations.

The new Aleco board, reorganized outside APEC early last month, has asked the Anti-Graft Division of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate the missing Php 500-million fund provided to the cooperative by Malacañang under then Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo following super typhoon "Reming" that ravaged the province in November 2006.

Its president, Jaime Chua, said the general assembly has recognized that the root of today’s problems in Aleco is the missing fund intended for the rehabilitation of the distribution system of the power cooperative.

The system was not rehabilitated following its misappropriation that left the cooperative suffering from 24- percent systems loss which is equivalent to Php 48 million in monthly deficit or Php 576-million deficit per year.

Had the amount been spent as intended, Aleco would not have been having its Php 4-billion deficits that have drawn the cooperative into bankruptcy now, causing brownouts in the province, Chua stressed.

The new Board also asked the NBI “to investigate the sweetheart deal entered into by Bishop Baylon and Petilla, among others, with SMC Global, to whom they gave away the business of Aleco practically for free, because the signatories are not authorized by the member-consumers to sign away the business and the assets of Aleco,” according to Chua.

It is contemplating on filing a case in the court to win back Aleco from SMC.

“We, the undersigned Priests of the different cities and municipalities of the Province of Albay make this urgent appeal for the immediate restoration of electric power in the whole province, and by immediate, we do not mean a period of one month or so,” the letter said.

Power supply in the entire province was cut off at the height of the devastation wrought by typhoon "Glenda" last July 15.

After Glenda, the people of Albay thought that APEC could have power at the soonest time possible only to be told that it would take a month or so for power in the province to normalize. APEC, being backed by a blue chip corporation—SMC -- could easily restore power if it wants, the priests said in the letter.

“We are sure that before APEC/SMC signed the privatization contract, its corporate geniuses must have factored in the pact that Albay is always ravaged by typhoons; why the seeming inefficiency? The old Aleco, even with its inefficiency, did not take long to reenergize the province after typhoon Reming which was even more destructive than Glenda,” they said.

Reming struck Albay in November 2006 and by Christmas time that same year, power was restored in almost all parts of Albay, the priests recalled in the letter.

As of Friday, reports gathered by PNA have it that only about 30 percent of the province has been reenergized -- mostly town centers and city propers.

Here, Mayor Noel Rosal said power has been restored in about 80 percent of the city with only those outskirt barangays whose distribution lines suffered heavy damages left, but already being attended to. (Danny O. Calleja/PNA) CTB/FGS/DOC/CBD/