P1-M refund for Bukidnon power consumers looms

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/20 February) – The Bukidnon Second Electric Cooperatives faces the likelihood of being ordered to refund consumers affected by its imposition of extra charges for reconnection, an official of the power firm said.

This developed after the Energy Regulatory Commission ordered Buseco to submit a copy of a list of the affected consumers.

In a letter dated January 11, ERC Executive Director Francis Saturnino Juan also asked Buseco general manager Edgardo Masongsong to submit within 15 days from receipt the total amount the consumers paid for “other charges.”

Juan’s letter was received on February 10, which means Masongsong has until February 25 to comply.

MindaNews sought Masongsong for his reaction, but he declined to comment.

But Oliver Aldovino, Buseco director for Impasugong town, said the order would possibly lead to a refund to the affected consumers involving an amount of at least P1 million.

A complaint was earlier filed against Buseco for charging “other fees” without ERC approval for which it paid P100,000 in penalty. The amount was reflected in official receipt no. 9425124 dated July 13, 2011.

The payment came four months after the ERC issued a show-cause order for Buseco to explain why they should not be charged administratively for imposing other charges, including reconnection fee, without prior approval from the commission.

Buseco reportedly imposed a reconnection fee beyond the approved amount as contained in the decision on December 29, 2003 in ERC Case No. 2001-929, the ERC noted.

From P40, Buseco raised its reconnection fee to P625.34 and then to P943.77 since 2010. The ERC said these were not the approved amounts for “other charges.”

“This constitutes a clear violation of the aforementioned decision of the Commission particularly on Items I.C and II.B.5,” it added.

The order, signed by Juan, was issued on March 23, 2011 in Pasig City.

Buseco denied having violated the approved “other charges”.

“Buseco did not increase its reconnection fee of P40 which remains the same. What was recovered by Buseco was merely the actual incidental costs and expenses necessary to effect the disconnection and reconnection,” the firm said in its response to ERC.

In its formal offer of “compromise settlement” to ERC, Eleuterio Diao IV, the firm’s counsel, wrote that the payment was offered in order to “buy peace without admission of any violation of the ERC regulatory rules as regards to other fees and charges.”

The compromise settlement came out after the preliminary conference of the ERC’s Regulatory Operations Services (ROS), Diao cited.

The ERC ordered on July 18, five days after the payment, the closure of the case as it acknowledged the receipt of the P100,000 compromise settlement as “satisfaction of the approved compromise” in the case.

But critics said something could be wrong with the decision.

“It’s one thing that has to be investigated,” Rep. Crecente Paez, of the Cooperative-National Confederation of Cooperatives (Coop-NATCCO) party-list said.

Paez, who spoke at the Bukidnon Power Consumers Forum organized in September by the Cooperative Development Authority, the Provincial Cooperative Development Council and the Association of Consumers of Electricity, said even the deal should be checked.

Back in March 2011, the ERC ordered Buseco to submit an explanation under oath “why no administrative penalty” should be imposed or “criminal action” instituted against its directors and officers for imposing such charges. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)