The Palawan Electric Cooperative (PALECO) is not in a position to reduce the accumulated electric bills of its member-consumers as “discounts”, as suggested by several provincial board members.

Maylene Ballares, who represented the PALECO board during a hearing of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan on Tuesday, explained that the cooperative is not financially in a position to offer discounts and does not have an “amelioration” program to draw funds from.

Ballares was reacting to inquiries from several local lawmakers over alleged over-billing and the accumulation of unpaid bills during the lockdown period.

“Una sa lahat, [ang PALECO] ay non-profit, isang kooperatiba na kailangang mabigyang-pansin ang mga kamay-ari. Kung tayo ay magbibigay ng amelioration o bawas sa ating mga bayarin, saan kukunin ng PALECO ang ibabawas?” Ballares said.

She explained that they have to account for such action to the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

“We follow kung ano ang ERC (Energy Regulatory Commission). Hindi tayo puwedeng magdagdag o magbawas sa mga sinisingil sa mga rates at receipts,” she added.

She explained that whatever net surplus that accrues to the cooperative after settling its financial obligations to its power providers are given back to members as dividends or allocated to patronage refunds and related operational expenses.

Board member Ryan Maminta has suggested that the cooperative set aside unused or reserve funds for the purpose.

Ballares firmly stated that the cooperative’s current P1-2 million restricted funds cannot be used to serve as amelioration because it is allocated for “specific purposes” such as the installation of new transformers and power lines. She further reiterated that these projects cannot just be postponed for the sake of providing discounts to consumers.

“Restricted na talaga ang mga funds na iyon, unless huwag na tayong maglagay ng mga extension ng lines, huwag na tayong magpailaw, huwag na tayong pumunta sa mga bayan na wala pang ilaw. Ang mga restricted funds ay allocated for such purposes. Kung tatanggalin natin ang mga iyon at magbibigay ng mga discount, paano na lang naman ang mga wala pang liwanag sa kanilang mga lugar?” said Ballares.

Power consumers went into an uproar when PALECO in mid-April initially announced a 30% interest for bills incurred during March and April, which was the lockdown period in Palawan. This billing scheme was recalled in early May, then replaced with a new scheme averaging each household’s consumption from December 2019 to March 2020.

Nevertheless, the cooperative continues to draw flak for not providing even installment programs or discounts for those unable to pay their electric bills in full. Various calls for discounts for billings incurred during the lockdown were called upon, especially for those greatly affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

Maminta demanded that PALECO must be transparent about their concerns, especially about amelioration programs, as these are critical issues to the public.

“Kung wala naman talaga[ng amelioration], tell it to the public, very clearly. Kung meron naman, then do it, let the public benefit from this amelioration. Kasi nga, ang problema ninyo noong nakaraan, ‘yong komunikasyon ninyo sa publiko. Hindi lang sa publiko, kundi sa mga tauhan ninyo ang may problema,” Maminta said.