This week’s initial statements coming from the Palawan Electric Cooperative (PALECO) have tempered down some anxiety brought about by the radical move of the National Electrification Administration (NEA) to take over the electric cooperative.
In his initial interviews with the press, newly-designated PALECO general manager Nelson Lalas sought to quell speculations what his role is going to be, vowing “not to be a problem but part of the solution.” He said he will concentrate his efforts on improving the technical capability of the cooperative and its financial viability.
Lalas’ appointment was a bolt of lightning to PALECO, coming in the heels of President Duterte’s ultimatum for the franchise to shape up or face complete government takeover and privatization. The president was emphatic about addressing the blackouts that have become a regular occurrence and was amplifying what many consumers felt about PALECO as the representation of that problem.
His appointment’s terms of reference gave him unprecedented absolute control of PALECO, given his supposed power to veto or approve decisions made by the PALECO Board, indirectly that of the cooperative’s members which are mostly private citizens paying their electric bills. If the NEA intends to execute the president’s threat, Lalas’ appointment as PALECO general manager could very well be a signal to the franchise’s privatization.
None of that will happen, Lalas himself said this week. It was echoed by PALECO officials who, at the least, displayed a civil demeanor towards Lalas after sitting down with him behind closed doors. Officials have said they are expecting that their development plans which they submitted to NEA following President Duterte’s speech in Puerto Princesa City will be the government’s course of action in improving the province’s power situation. PALECO officials also urged the national regulatory agencies to allow them to proceed with their ongoing head hunting for a new regular general manager, a process that was disrupted by Duterte’s rant.
The bright side of this development is that Lalas, who represents NEA as his principal as opposed to the consumers who normally pick out their own GM through a general membership voting, has gone out of his way to quell fears of privatization envisioned by Duterte.
What PALECO needs at this time is support from national agencies such as NEA and the Department of Energy to follow through with the valid concerns raised by the president. PALECO privatization, a course of action poised by Duterte, lends more to opportunistic interests rather than a rational approach to ending the blackouts and the inefficiency of PALECO.