Majority in Central Negros vote for power modernization deal
BACOLOD CITY — An overwhelming majority voted yes to the Central Negros Electric Cooperative (Ceneco) and Primelectric Holdings Inc. (PHI) joint venture agreement (JVA) in the second round of the plebiscite last weekend.
But three Roman Catholic bishops on Negros Island questioned the JVA, in a joint pastoral statement issued Saturday. They called on the government to step in with financial assistance to ensure that Ceneco retain its autonomy as a cooperative.
Partial plebiscite results on August 20, showed 67,562 or 91 percent voted yes to the JVA on June 24 and 25 and August 19 and 20, said Arnel Lapore, Ceneco acting general manager.
Nine percent or 6,601 of Ceneco’s 177,737 eligible voters chose no to the JVA as of Sunday.
Four more plebiscite dates were set on August 26 and 27 and September 2 and 3,
Ceneco and PHI signed the pact on June 3 to modernize and improve power distribution in its franchise area.
The JVA, however, needs the ratification of Ceneco member-consumers in a plebiscite to become final.
The Ceneco franchise area covers Bacolod, Silay, Talisay, and Bago cities as well as Salvador Benedicto and Murcia towns in Negros Occidental.
Bacolod Bishop Patricio Buzon, San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, and Kabankalan Bishop Louie Galbines said the franchise to own and operate a system for distribution of electricity in these areas was given to Ceneco as a cooperative.
They said Ceneco has stated that it is “in dire need of immediate financing for the implementation of critical capital expenditure projects to lower its systems losses and improve reliability of its system.”
Ceneco has thus resorted to a private company, PHI, to provide financial resources, thereby creating a JVA called the Negros Electric and Power Corporation (NEPC). The share distribution in this proposed JVA is 30 percent for Ceneco and 70 percent for PHI, the bishops said.
“This move has raised many concerns from various groups led by the Ceneco members-consumers-owners federation. They question the motives behind the move and the unacceptable manner by which the JVA was brought to existence,” they said.
“There are doubts on who benefits and who suffers from this move. There are fears that this could be a step towards the disempowerment of member-consumer-owners and that this may lead to privatization,” they added.
They asked whether the JVA with PHI is the only solution to the problem.
“The distribution of the shares is in favor of PHI and the idea of being a cooperative might dissipate,” the bishops said.
“Whenever a resource is privatized, we turn it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market, disabling us from determining prices, as well as lessening our influence on the management,“ they added.
They said electricity is not a commodity but a public utility for the common good, and should not be subject to profit-driven interests.
“We challenge Ceneco to be a truly authentic cooperative. Ceneco’s inability to fulfill its mandate of providing inexpensive and reliable electricity for its constituents speaks of an internal problem. From the management’s own admittance of inefficiency, there is need for change in its organizational system, and conversion in its organizational culture. We urge Ceneco to listen and foster closer cooperation with the unions to make these changes happen,” the bishops said.
They encouraged consumers to realize that they are members and owners of Ceneco, and step up and be more actively engaged in demanding transparency and accountability.
“We exhort you to study the terms of the JVA in careful detail and make reasoned judgments on their impact and consequences. Make your opinions count by registering your vote in the scheduled plebiscite,” the bishops said.
“Be vigilant and proactive in ensuring that the plebiscite is done in an honest, fair, and peaceful manner. May we enter into the plebiscite guided by sound principles that lead us to attain the common good,” they added.
Lapore said he respects the opinion and concerns of the bishops.
“The motive for the JVA is noble, it is not intended to prejudice Ceneco but to enhance the services that consumers truly deserve. We envision a modernized Ceneco able to respond to the needs of Bacolod and its nearby cities and municipalities as they grow,” he said.
“We are certain that the joint venture will bring better service to the consumers. We believe that the NEA (National Electrification Administration) will give a green signal to this joint venture agreement after it conducts a review,” Lapore added.
He said Congress has the final say whether or not to grant a franchise to the new joint venture company.
“There may have been some miscommunication that needs to be verified. If there are complaints we will look into them,” he said.
Total voter turn-out so far has been 74,163 or 42 percent of the 177,737 eligible voters.