LEGAZPI CITY --- Still reeling from operational and collection woes five years since it assumed control of the bankrupt Albay Electric Cooperative (Aleco), the San Miguel-owned Albay Power and Energy Corp. has finally launched an amnesty program and automatic issuance of monthly power bills simultaneous with the meter reading to its over 200,000 consumers.
The amnesty scheme was launched as a result of the long delay in the issuance of statement of accounts or bills resulting in consumers accumulated arrearages, which APEC classified as delinquent accounts.
An APEC advisory sent to consumers said that the amnesty program is the solution to avoid disconnection of electric service particularly for consumers with delinquents accounts.
APEC took over the coverage area of Aleco in January 2014. Its first two years of operation got controversially marred by massive erroneous billings and no billing issuance to consumers for months and in the case of some consumers for years.
Many consumers have complained that they received their monthly bills a hundred times higher than their usual monthly billing under Aleco.
APEC public affairs chief Patricia Gutierrez confirmed that one residential consumer in Tiwi had received an erroneous bill of P1 million during APEC’s first year operation. She said problems encountered in the database was the primary reason for that.
In 2015, then APEC general manager Manny Imperial told the media that APEC was hard put in its collection and billing system with the power firm encountering difficulty reconciling its database, saying only around 40,000 of the more than 200,000 Albay consumers were made available for the meter reading, collection, and servicing. He claimed that the database had been allegedly sabotaged.
Imperial said that APEC seriously underestimated the extent of rehabilitation needed for badly damaged Aleco power distribution facilities. Until now, Apec is undertaking repairs of its facilities as brownouts continue haunting Albay consumers.
It will be recalled that then Albay Gov. Joey Sarte Salceda had strongly fought for the privatization of Aleco, which he described as a problematic cooperative rocked by heavy debts amounting to P4 billion.
Backed by the National Electrification Administration (NEA) and all the political leaders in Albay, the privatization was realized with San Miguel Corp assuming control of Aleco, after winning the concession in a public bidding in 2013.
With the Apec pronouncement that it would provide excellent power service to Albay in its first year of operation.The power firm however failed miserably to provide good service. Consumers led by the Albay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, including more than 60 Catholic priests under the Diocese of Legazpi, filed a petition against APEC at the same time assailing the deafening silence of the concerned Albay politicians.
According to Gutierrez, the automatic issuance of Statements Of Accounts (SOA) immediately after the meter reading would start February 23, while the amnesty program is now in progress. Under the program, consumers’ delinquent accounts would have all the penalties and surcharges written of if the balance of their accounts be totally settled.
Many consumers who have delinquent accounts blamed APEC’s failure to deliver on time their statement of accounts, thus resulting in accumulated arrearages. One consumer said she had been compliant settling her monthly bills covered by SOA and lamented that she is still haunted by the off-and-on issuance of SOA.
With Apec still in rehabilitation five years after it took over from Aleco, the power firm remains troubled by a high system loss, poor collection, and the so-called Aleco 4, which refers to allegedly dismissed Aleco personnel engaged in operation outside the authority of the cooperative.
The former Aleco was divided into 3 districts called Aleco 1, Aleco 2, and Aleco 3 covering the province is three congressional districts. The Aleco 4 is reportedly operated by an alleged syndicate at Aleco, whose activities, Apec officials claimed, are still rampant in Tabaco City and neighboring towns by offering services for consumers without APEC blessing.