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PALECO’s misfortunes and the continuing power problems

Late last year while on a speaking tour in Puerto Princesa City, President Rodrigo Duterte surprised everyone when he spontaneously declared a policy statement giving the Palawan Electric Cooperative (PALECO) until the end of that year to resolve the recurring blackouts in the city or face privatization.

The president was apparently briefed about the issue by someone personally close to him at the last minute prior to his engagement to speak on the anniversary of the Underground River, and he decided to make the topic the centerpiece of his talk.

It has been more than six months since that presidential deadline lapsed. The power situation hasn’t changed much and frequent blackouts are still the norm. PALECO remains at the center of the problem, receiving daily brickbats from consumers and facing an assortment of lawsuits and management challenges.

PALECO’s search for a permanent general manager to help steer the organization out of its crisis gridlock has bogged down, as its selected candidate for the post backed out, spooked by the organization’s complex problems. A PALECO official at first claimed they failed to agree on the salary package for the key post, prompting the selected candidate to go on record stating it was the intervention of local politicians that made him back out.

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PALECO’s acting GM is a person appointed by the National Electrification Administration (NEA) to the post following President Duterte’s rant. For all intents and purposes, the cooperative is already under NEA’s direct supervision, as its appointee’s designation empowered him to bypass even the decisions of the PALECO Board.

Last week the the City government filed a class action suit against the cooperative, seeking P1 million in civil damages for the inefficient power service. The case is still pending in the court. If it prospers, PALECO will pay the City P1 million in damages or whatever the court will assign, but it will not make to problem go away. The irony of it is the money will have to come from the pockets of PALECO’s cooperative membership which includes everyone and City Hall.

If one is trying to understand who is in charge of the problem, confusion sets in. The congressmen of Palawan who had just been replaced by their own relatives had filed a bill in the House granting a new electric distribution franchise to a new and influential power player. It still remains to be seen if the same measure will be carried on by newly minted Representatives Cyrille Abueg (sister of former Rep. Eric Abueg) and Gil Acosta Jr. (son of former Rep. Gil Acosta, Sr.).

One can’t blame the city for being more angry than constructive in filing a lawsuit preceded by a protest march to Justice Hall. It was merely voicing out the public’s disgust at things.

One city councilor was also reported to be moving for the removal of the entire PALECO board and getting the president to sign in on the initiative.

Consumers can only wish right now that immediate and lasting solutions to the technical, managerial and political problems confronting Palawan’s power sector, not just PALECO. Ideally, the NEA and the Department of Energy should be in the driver’s seat of all this. But the DoE has shown its hand to be more interested in usurping the PALECO franchise in favor of a new player. The least that department should do is come out in the open and say it so.

The NEA as well should define where it stands now, after months of directly micro-managing the cooperative.

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