Ecija town suffers anew from power cut; residents fume

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CABANATUAN CITY—As soon as the clock struck noon on Monday, Gerardo Sator, a former employee of the local government of Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija, knew his soft drinks business in the town would be dead for an indefinite period.

“This is the time my small business should be earning. But who drinks warm soft drinks?” Sator said as he expressed dismay over the financial woes of the Pantabangan Municipal Electric System (Pames).

He said the widespread power outage on Monday was “very unfortunate” in a town that hosts two big taxpaying companies, such as Casecnan Multipurpose Irrigation and Power Project, and First Gen Hydro Power Corp. (FGHPC).

FGHPC, which owns and operates the Pantabangan-Masiway Hydroelectric Complex, cut off power supply to the local government-run Pames over its alleged failure “to keep its account current, having incurred unpaid power bills from July 2012 to December 2012 amounting to P8,762,405.58.”

Pantabangan Councilor Teodora Agustin said residents of the town were angry due to the power cutoff.

Deeper reason

In a text message to the Inquirer, Mayor Romeo Borja Sr. confirmed the power disconnection on Monday.

“They cut off the power supply in Pantabangan but there is a deeper reason and it is not only about Pames’ obligation to them. They returned the check that we paid them on Friday,” he said in Filipino.

He declined to give additional information. “I’ll talk about this issue tomorrow (Tuesday) because I’ll be talking to First Gen tomorrow.”

Earlier, Borja said his administration never stopped looking for a solution to the problem that the town government was facing long before he assumed the mayoral post.

It was the second time since July last year that power was cut off in the town under Borja’s leadership, amid a restructuring agreement between the local government and the FGHPC that was forged on March 16, 2012.

FGHPC first cut off supply to the town on July 23 last year due to Pames’ outstanding obligations of P80 million. Electricity was restored on Aug. 2 after a series of negotiations among the power generation firm, the provincial government and the town government under the guidance of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo.

Outstanding debt

FGHPC said Pames had a total outstanding debt of P52,264,222.75, which the latter incurred after entering into an agreement for the settlement of the obligation in August last year during the first power cutoff.

In a statement, it said Pames had paid only P28 million of its P80-million debt by offsetting the real property taxes that the FGHPC was supposed to pay the town government for the hydropower facility.

“We have been trying to hold off on the decision to cut off the power supply to Pames but we cannot afford to delay this action anymore, as we also have a responsibility to keep our operations viable, considering that FGHPC also supplies power to two other electric cooperatives, a government agency and an industrial customer,” the company said.

The firm asked residents of Pantabangan to understand its decision. With a report from Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon

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