(File photo)

Governor Jose Alvarez admitted recently that he was the one who asked the province’s two congressmen to file a bill in the House of Representatives seeking the granting of a new franchise to MORE Reedbank Corporation.

Governor Alvarez acknowledged in a Radyo Bandera interview recently that he asked Reps. Frederick Abueg (2nd District, Palawan) and Gil Acosta Sr. (3rd District, Palawan), to file House Bill 8829 that would award a power distribution franchise to MORE.

MORE Reedbank Corporation is eyeing to establish, operate, and maintain a distribution system in the province to convey electricity to end users.

Alvarez defended his plan, stating that PALECO is no longer capable of fixing old distribution lines to provide reliable and uninterrupted power service to its members-consumers-owners (MCOs).

“Let’s face it, PALECO is a cooperative. The most inefficient way to run an electric company is through a cooperative. Inefficient talaga yan. Now, meron silang franchise na 30 years na may naiiwan pang nine years na sinasabi nila, di ba? Hindi naman gagalawin ang franchise nila,” he said.

MORE Reedbank Corporation, he said, will not have “generation”, only transmission and distribution where electricity is needed.

He said further that PALECO’s financial status does not allow it to establish new power lines anymore and to rehabilitate old ones that can trigger total blackouts due to even minor vegetation disturbance.

“Kasi ang PALECO, wala namang pera ‘yan para gumawa ng mga bagong linya. Ang ating main cause sa ating brownout at sa mga blackout natin ay ‘yong mga nahuhulugan ng sanga, ‘yong mga luma ng transmission at saka ‘yong mga luma ng distribution line,” he said.

He said his goal in the future is to have a transmission line from Barangay Buliluyan, Bataraza in southern Palawan to El Nido in the north that will connect to an available 100-megawatt power supply in Sabah.

Alvarez said investors from the Malaysian state are already hurrying the provincial government to sign an agreement regarding the possibility.

“Ako sige lang ako nilang apurahin, inaapura po ako na kung kailangan mag-pirma na ng agreement. Ang sabi ko naman, hindi pa namin matanggap ‘yan dahil wala pa kaming 138-kilovolt line from Buliluyan to El Nido. Putol-putol ‘yong atin… meron tayong 36,000 kV which can easily be upgradable to 138 kilovolts. Kung meron noon makakatanggap tayo ng 100 megawatts,” he said.

Alvarez said if this happens, the current power generators in the province will just be “on standby.”

He said these generators will also own it as they would let them buy the power supply from Sabah that is from gas and hydropower plants which costs cheaper and will bring down electricity rates.

“Hindi totoo ang mga haka-haka nila na merong transmission line tapos tataas ang presyo ng kuryente. Mali ‘yon. Mali ‘yon kasi nasa Small Power Utilities Group (SPUG) pa tayo, di ba? Di naman tayo maaalis sa SPUG, kaya meron pa ring subsidy,” Alvarez said.

Granting Razon’s group a franchise does not mean that the subsidy will be removed like what PALECO has been saying, he said.

“Mas gaganda ang serbisyo dahil ang PALECO wala talagang chance,” he said, stressing that two-three years ago, he introduced the power cooperative to the Manila Electric Company (MERALCO) which was willing to invest P1 to P2 billion but the proposal “was not embraced” by PALECO.

He said MERALCO was not after owning PALECO, it was only after helping the province provide power to residents in distant barangays.

Alvarez said PALECO’s demand for independence in operation is not possible at this point because the problem is already broadening.

“Yong sinasabing ‘wag silang pakialaman, hindi naman pupuwede ‘yon. Si presidente na mismo ang nagsabi gumawa ng aksyon, so dapat umaksyon tayo. Tumawag sa akin si Mr. Razon, sabi niya kung pwede daw ba sila mag-apply ng transmission at distribution. Ano ‘yon? Sabi ko, walang generation? Sabi nila wala. Itong mga nag-ge-generate ng power ngayon, sila pa rin. Walang masama doon. Hindi lang naintindihan siguro, hindi lang siguro nila binasa ‘yong panukala. Kaya ako tumawag ako kay Cong. Abueg, at kako, i-sponsor mo ‘yan, Cong. Acosta, i-sponsor mo ‘yan. Nagkataon ang franchise committee chairman [sa House of Representative] si Cong. Chicoy, ay mapapabilis ‘yan,” he said.

Alvarez is convinced that if Razon’s power company comes in, the province’s power problems will be resolved.

He denied too that Abueg and Acosta received payoffs from MORE Reedbank to grant him a franchise.

It was the Department of Energy (DOE), he said, that invited Razon to check the possibility of helping Palawan’s power problems.

House Bill 8829 was filed by Abueg and Acosta on January 14 to the House of Representatives. Its explanatory note cited that a new power player is needed due to complaints against PALECO for its “serious problems of frequent and long power outages and interruptions, inadequately-maintained lines, inadequate investment in distribution facilities, and inordinate delay in the restoration of power services among others.”

It also cited President Rodrigo Duterte’s threat to expropriate the power cooperative if it fails to shape up before the end of 2018.

Before MORE Reedbank’s franchise request, the DOE on January 11, wrote House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to cancel the franchises of 17 electric cooperatives (ECs) including PALECO.

This move by Energy Sec. Alfonso Cusi fomented speculations that MORE Reedbank’s proposal to be granted franchise was part of a scheme to take control of PALECO.

But before the end of January, Cusi withdrew its recommendation to the House of Representatives and went instead for a fresh review and evaluation of the status of the concerned ECs.

Despite the withdrawal, the PALECO and the other ECs covered by the DOE’s earlier recommendation for franchise cancellation joined on February 14 a nationwide Black Valentine Protest against the move.

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is the chief of correspondents of Palawan News. She covers defense, politics, tourism, health, and sports stories. She loves to travel and explore different foods.