By Manuel T. Ugalde
LEGAZPI CITY --- After almost four years now that the National Electrification Administration had placed the old Albay Electric Cooperative (Aleco) under the operation of a private firm, a provincial board member suggested the filing of a class suit against Albay Power and Energy Corp (Apec), the private firm controlled by San Miguel Corporation.
This came even as disgusted consumers complained that nothing has changed after the provincial officials then, led by then Gov. Joey Salceda and members of the provincial board virtually gave the green light for Aleco’s operations to be put in the hands of the private firm and save it from its being drowned by the P4B outstanding debt that it has incurred over the years with NEA and other energy suppliers.
Albay Provincial Board Member Rolly Rosal, chair of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan Committee on Environment, citing unending woes aired by Albay consumers under Apec over alleged recurrent power blackouts and inefficient service
suggested in a radio interview that the province, under incumbent Gov. Al Francis Bichara, should take a bold step by filing a class suit against Apec.
Rosal is the younger brother of Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal, who, together with then Gov. Salceda, in 2013 led the call for Aleco to be privatized, or at least its operation be handed to a private firm to ensure its “efficient and productive” rehabilitation. Salceda, upon the expiration of his term at the provincial capitol, is now the congressman of the second district of Albay which is also under the coverage of the provinwide electric company.
In February 2014 a month after assuming control of Aleco, then Apec general manager Allan Marchan assured NEA and the LGUs Albay that they would soon provide “the best and most impressive power service in the region under Aleco.
Added to the woes of consumers on June 6 2017, residents of the prominent Sunrise Subdivision in Legazpi was shooked by a sudden strong electric outburst sending shocked residents in panic to rush outside residents.
Since then, Legazpi City and the whole province of Albay have been hounded by frequent power failures made worse by poorly rehabilitated power linesand inefficient linemen.
In one recent instance, residents of Sunrise Subdivision in this city led by lawyer Teodorico Almine are claiming compensation for their damaged appliances after the power lines within their subdivision last June 6 burst into sparks and flames.
A police report said the Sunrise Subdivision incident that occurred at 10 o’clock in the morning was immediately aborted by the timely arrival of responding firetrucks although not one was reported hurt.
Lawyer Almine said he had already submitted to Apec a list of his totally damaged appliances for compensation, adding that denial of his request may force him and many of his fellow homeowners to file a class suit against Apec.
Apec spokesperson Patricia Gutierrez said they are still investigating the case.
Almine said had the incident occurred at night time, worse could have happened inside the subdivision that hosts around 300 homeowners.
It may be recalled that inJanuary 2014, San Miguel Corporation took over operation of the beleaguered and cash-strapped Albay Electric Cooperative after besting four other giant companies, including Aboitiz and the Gokongwei group, in a bidding for the power coop’s 50-year concession contract.
Asserting that a takeover by a tested private company was the only option to save Albay from total power shut off, then Gov. Salceda in 2012 pressed for the resignation of the entire Aleco board members. This was followed by NEA’s creation of the Aleco Interim Board of Directors headed by Diocese of Legazpi Bishop Joel Baylon whose primary task was to formulate policies and rules and regulations governing the operation of the power coop by a private company.
After four years, its 23,000 or so member-consumers are asking where are now the political kingpins of the province, including the 5 Albay lawmakers (including two from the Ako Bicol Partylist) who strongly backed Aleco’s privatization mode. Even the once fiery voice of Bishop Baylon who was in the frontline for the takeover by private firm can no longer be heard, they said.
Baylon virtually got a slap in the face when in 2014 at least 50 priests from the Diocese of Legazpi signed a manifesto strongly criticizing Apec’s dismal services. Such manifesto came after an earlier manifesto was also issued by the Albay Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Meanwhile, the sidelined Aleco Union officials accused Apec of incompetence in handling trouble-shooting and even minor electrical connection rehabilitation and repair.
Consumers said it has become unbearable and desperately deplorable that after long years, Albay continues to suffer intermittent daily brownouts, not to mention the regular once a week scheduled whole-day brownouts under Apec.
And then, there’s the billing problem due to alleged sabotaged data base of the power coop resulting to erratic and erroneous billing system where many residents have failed to receive their latest bills for the past two years, fearing for a compounded power bill in the future that they could no longer afford to pay.