If the intention of the ongoing congressional probe on Palawan’s power situation is to pave the way for a new power distribution franchise that will replace the Palawan Electric Cooperative (PALECO), the House committee on energy this week indicated it is not keen on the idea.
Vocal members of the committee including its vice-chair representing the Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association, Inc. (Philreca) and the party-list representative from APEC, came to PALECO’s defense when this subject matter was brought up during a hearing that extended over well beyond six hours and streamed live on Facebook.
Speaking as resource persons, Governor Jose Alvarez and city councilor Elgin Robert Damasco zeroed in on PALECO as the root cause of the persistent blackouts in the city. Governor Alvarez urged the cooperative to form a merger of some sort with a private company that has the financial muscle to improve not only its power distribution mandate but also to address the power generation side of the problem.
Governor Alvarez was pointedly critical of PALECO and made several assertions from his perspective on the power sector challenges facing Palawan. He tried to make a case that a privatized power distribution is better than a coop that has a little financial capacity like PALECO, citing the case of Iloilo which he claimed was better off because of the Enrique Razon owned MORE Electric and Power Corp.
Gov. Alvarez also contended that the Palawan franchise cooperative has not been aggressive enough to address the power supply gap which he said was constraining tourism investments in the province. He suggested that PALECO consider yielding its majority interest to a private company.
There was no substantial discussion on Governor Alvarez’s proposal and assertions as the committee hearing rules insulated him from interpellation. But committee vice-chair Presley de Jesus and APEC party-list Sergio Dagooc interjected contrary assertions of their own. Rep. de Jesus, for his part, denied that the electricity rates in Iloilo were as claimed by Governor Alvarez.
Councilor Damasco was challenged by committee members to testify under oath, only to be placed in an awkward situation after the Energy Regulation Commission (ERC) flatly denied his testimony that Sen. Bong Go, at his request, was instrumental in the approval of PALECO’s capital expenditure plan.
The hearing concluded without a clear indication of where it is going but the committee indicated they will continue with it. Suffice it to say that the privatization track on PALECO being pushed by Palawan appears not to have taken off. At least not yet.