STATE POLICY ON RURAL ELECTRIFICATION MUST REFLECT STAKEHOLDER SENTIMENTS
Leaders from various electric cooperative (EC) organizations made a collective stand on Friday (April 13) to remain as solid partners of the national government in its continuing pursuit to energize every single household in the country no matter how far.
The statement came on the heels of a Department of Energy (DOE) pronouncement that effectively clears the way for private investors to barge into rural electrification, which for so long has been left in the wheelhouse of community-owned distribution utilities.
“Forty eight (48) years of rural electrification program is a testament to our resilience and steadfast dedication to its goal,” said Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association, Inc. (Philreca) president Presley De Jesus in a press conference held at a restaurant in Makati City.
“Thus, and with all due respect, the policy on private sector participation in rural electrification program is based on a wrong predicate: that there are non-performing ECs who are considered barriers to total electrification,” De Jesus added.
Philreca, in its joint statement with the Philippine Federation of Electric Cooperatives (Philfeco) as represented by its chairperson, GM Dave Siquian, appealed against widespread misconception that power co-ops are generally ineffective. Citing official data, the groups said only eight percent out of the total 121 ECs in the Philippines are considered problematic.
“And these are likewise not caused by our perceived operational inefficiency, but due to events and situations beyond our control like natural calamities, political strife, insurgency and more often than not topographic challenges,” De Jesus explained.
Notwithstanding these difficulties, the Philreca chief said most ECs have delivered on their mandate to help the government promote sustainable rural development through electricity. Therefore, they cannot be expected to peacefully yield their jobs anytime soon to the private sector.
“We in the electric cooperative industry stand firm in our dogged resolve to fulfill the mission of providing quality service to the country’s rural communities and meet the original objective of total electrification. Because we can, we will stay the course and finish it,” De Jesus said.
While they welcome competition, the EC leaders feared that a state policy on the entry of deep-pocketed private firms in rural electrification lays the groundwork for their cooperatives to give up the ghost, so to speak, affecting the welfare of their stakeholders.
Reynaldo Lazo, president of the Philippine Association of Board of Directors of Rural Electric Cooperatives (PABREC), thus called on the government to protect the ECs against private companies that have vested interests on potentially auspicious communities.
“I am okay with the pronouncement of the DOE, knowing it will benefit the member-consumers in areas that are not yet electrified. Encouraging private (sector) participation is fine as long as it does not interfere and encroach on the operations of the ECs,” Lazo stated.
“Because the way we see it, it’s the start (for private investors) just to be in, and then later on they are going to be wielding their power and influence at the expense of our co-ops. We hope this will not happen but that’s how we see it,” he said further.
National Center of Electric Cooperatives Consumers, Inc. (NCECCO) chairman Akmad Mamalinta shared the same perspective, adding that future investors must ensure that their participation is purely based on the intent to give the public better options and not fueled by their greed.
“I believe the regulations are in place before any project can be undertaken. There must be some terms of reference (before they can proceed), which should be the case. They can’t do it just like that,” said Mamalinta.
“They (private investors) have to work closely with our state regulators to make sure that the other aspects and component of (their) operations will be done in the context of government efforts to provide better electricity services at lower cost to the consumers,” the NCECCO chief added. ###
Photos from PHILRECA