It was this paper, Palawan News, in its January 26-February 3 editorial, which brought to light the distressing information of a powerful lobby behind the filing of a bill in the House of Representatives for the grant of an electric power distribution franchise in Palawan and Puerto Princesa City to MORE Reed Bank Corporation. Once granted, its legislative license will overlap that of the Palawan Electric Cooperative (Paleco). Reportedly, MORE Reed Bank aspires to take over Paleco’s electric power distribution franchise in Palawan on the strength of a recent Department of Energy (DOE) memorandum addressed  to House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo classifying 17 electric cooperatives nationwide, Paleco included, as “under-performing financially and technically-distressed”, recommending the cancelation of their respective franchises.

The said bill stood poised to be acted favorably by the Lower House until the Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (Philreca) raised a howl against it, forcing DOE to withdrew its franchise cancelation proposal, citing “the need to further evaluate and asses the present status of the 17 cooperatives” (Phil Daily Inquirer Feb. 8, 2019). Philreca said that DOE’s “flip-flopping” meant that “DOE acted in haste, without due diligence and without prior consultation with the electric cooperatives concerned.” The National Electrification Agency (NEA) vowed “to conduct a thorough performance review of the 17 cooperatives”.

It was a breather for our “ailing” cooperative- indeed, a good break for “bad boy” Paleco. Given the attendant circumstances, several ‘wrongs’ had been committed such that any decision made thereon could never have been right. The filing of the House Bill was without due consultation. Paleco maybe “ailing” at this point, but definitely far from being in articulo mortis (as we lawyers are wont to describe something at dying’s point) to necessitate its franchise termination. Paleco, as far as I know, is an electric cooperative now registered under Republic Act No. 9592-the Philippine Cooperative Act as amended; as such, primary regulatory authority over it is more with the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) less with the NEA, much lesser with the DOE. Paleco’s Board of Directors were never heard on the matter; perhaps they were silent, but were they notified beforehand of the bill’s filing or of DOE’s “ailing” classification or of MORE Reed Bank Corporation’s intended franchise take-over, let alone its corporate existence? It’s hard to say that there was due process here.

No doubt Paleco has been a “bad boy” in its electric service. Its long history is replete with power failures every now and then. But consider this- homes, schools, churches heretofore unenergized in far corners, even islands of Palawan had been lighted; business enterprises, agro-industrial operations, tourism activities have all benefited from Paleco’s operation. Sure it’s got lots of faults and lapses-administrative, managerial, operational and what have you. But the potentials for improvement are there because Paleco’s fundamentals are strong. Franchise termination is hardly the correct and fair solution.

I‘m no bleeding heart for Paleco; often, I look at it with disdain. Yet I’m not ready to bid adieu to this electric cooperative we have, for its failures, learned to hate and for its successes, to love. My family and I can look back to a lengthy association with it-my late, father Francisco Ponce de Leon, is widely considered as Paleco’s father, having spearheaded its organization and eventual birth as an electric cooperative back in 1973. With Paleco’s first board made up of Joe Tan Paredes, Miguel Maggay, Peping Guinto and Irenio Baroña, with the support of Gov. Salvador Socrates, Mayor Bert Oliveros, NEA head Col. Pedro Dumol and Manager Pat Lucero, he guided and strengthened Paleco during its years of infancy, spending his own time, effort and resources. For several of its court cases, I was Paleco’s legal counsel. My wife, Eva, was for some time its assistant manager. In the dark hour of its looming but unceremonious franchise termination, can we just turn our backs against it?

Paleco maybe a “bad boy”, but it is our own “bad boy.”

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