Church in Sorsogon to keep power co-op in consumer hands


Logo of Soreco II. Image is via BicolToday.com

SORSOGON CITY—Fully aware that Sorsogon Electric Cooperative II (Soreco II) has a status quo that may lead to take the course of Albay Electric Cooperative’s (Aleco)—which was taken over by San Miguel Energy Corp. (SMEC) early last month—the local church in Sorsogon will oppose possible attempts to take Soreco II from the hands of member-consumers, Sorsogon Diocese Media Relations Officer Rev. Fr. Bong Imperial said in a recent statement.

“People shall not be dispossessed of their proprietorship of the cooperative by which they illuminate their homes and propel their local industries,” he said. “To let it squander from the hands of the people is to let them become poorer.”

The majority of Soreco II member-consumers belong to the marginalized sectors—farmers, fishers, market vendors, small entrepreneurs and others who are considered part of the grassroots.

The current number of the cooperative’s member-consumers is 70,000, Soreco II President Percival Alvarez told the Business Mirror in an interview.

The privatization of the cooperative will not only hurt member-consumers, but also employees who have worked with the cooperative for years, Father Imperial said.

The cooperative is deep in debt, he said. If the present management fails to turn the cooperative around, Sorelco II will likely follow the course taken by Aleco.

Aleco was taken over by SMEC, a private power company, early this year as a result of the cooperative’s perpetual inability to assume its financial accountabilities.

Father Imperial said SMEC will not undertake Aleco’s financial liabilities. The member-consumers will do. The power company will also not absorb the mass of people employed by the cooperative, he said.

SMEC is setting its eyes on controlling power distribution in the entire Bicol region, under President Aquino’s Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Program, by taking over all morbid electric cooperatives in the region, he said.

If Soreco II is privatized, electricity rates in its coverage area—which includes the lone city in the province, Sorsogon City—will increase at the pleasure of the private power company, Father Imperial said.

Giving the cooperative to a private power firm will not guarantee consumers will enjoy better services. Power interruptions will be finally addressed, the priest said.

Soreco II is still suffering from the repercussions of its mishandling by the people who previously ran it, Father Imperial said. The mismanagement generated an internal conflict between administrators and the ranks.

Electricity is essential to the communities in the province, the priest said. The cooperative requires competent management to hold it from a possible tailspin into an irreparable financial obligation.

The current management proposes a power-rate hike from P5 to P15, Father Imperial said. But according to a cooperative employee, only a P4 power-rate increase is required to meet the price adjustments for power generation and transmission.

Asked in a text message if the cooperative’s current predicament is remote from a possible tailspin into the fate of Aleco, and if the management can turn around the situation, Alvarez chose not to comment.

Alvarez admitted in an earlier interview that some lines now require rehabilitation, which may cost millions of pesos on the part of the cooperative.

In earlier statement, Alvarez pointed to the government’s power industry policy as the reason electric cooperatives in the country suffer from difficulties, saying they are not allowed to profit from their operations. He called for the revision or repeal of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) of 2001, or  Republic Act 9136.

Soreco II started to illuminate households and propel local industries in 1975.

The local Church will definitely do all it can to keep Soreco II in the hands of member-consumers, Father Imperial said.

The original article is published on February 19, 2014 at Business Mirror.

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