COVID-19 Alert Level 3 cuts short electric co-op’s protest vs privatization

TAGUM CITY (MindaNews / 17 January) —  A sudden declaration of Alert Level 3 by local officials cut short the “Black Friday” protest rally in front of the provincial capitol here against the grant of the congressional franchise to the Aboitiz-owned Davao Light and Power Company (Davao Light).

Some 3,000 residents from several towns in Davao del Norte and Davao de Oro gathered in front of the capitol to step up their campaign against privatization. 

The Coalition Against Privatization of Electric Cooperatives (CAPECs) which spearheaded the protest action, was granted a permit until 2 p.m. by Tagum City Mayor Allan Rellon. Organizers, however, opted to cancel the motorcade that would have been the culmination of the mass action after Davao del Norte Governor Edwin Jubahib warned rallyists that the police will  disperse them  in 10 minutes for not observing physical distancing. 

Surrounded by anti-riot policemen in full gear, Jubahib confronted the rallyists right after the last speaker finished his speech at the makeshift stage to order the dispersal citing a report from the City Health Office that COVID-19 cases surged to 149 on January 14 from only 23 cases on New Year’s Day.

Rallyists from different parts of Davao del Norte attend the “Black Friday” protest action in front of the provincial capitol n Tagum City, Davao del Norte on January 14, 2022, against privatizing the distribution of electric power to consumers presently served by an electric cooperative. MindaNews photo by CHRIS V. PANGANIBAN
 

Jubahib issued Executive Order 2 on January 13, placing his province under Alert Level 3. The Alert Level 3 notice was posted on social media at One DavNor Network page, an hour before the mass at the Queen of Apostles College Seminary officiated by Bishop Medel Aseo, to kick off the day-long protest.

Policemen were deployed at the church where the mass was held.

Jubahib told protesters that local officials had submitted resolutions to support the bills to expand the franchise area of Davao Light. 

According to its website, Davao Light is the third largest privately-owned electric distribution utility in the country in terms of customer size and annual kWh sales.

Its franchise area covers Davao City, areas of Panabo City, and the municipalities of Carmen, Dujali, and Santo Tomas in Davao del Norte, with a population of approximately 1.8 million  and a total area of 3,561 square kilometers. 

Higher, lower

Jubahib claimed that under Davao Light, consumers in the province would enjoy a  lower price per kilowatt hour monthly, at two to three pesos lower than Nordeco’s P11 to P17 per kilowatt hour monthly.

A Nordeco presentation admitted its electricity rates could be slightly higher compared to Davao Light but the distribution, supply and metering charges will make the difference between profit and services.

The presentation noted about 27 percent of the monthly bill from the consumers will directly go to the Davao Light owners while Nordeco will retain only 15  per cent for the continued services to member-consumers as the rest of the charges are passed through generation companies, transmission providers and government dues. 

Spreader

For his part, Rellon asked the crowd to go home as the protest action could be a spreader for COVID-19. “We respect your constitutional rights but we cannot compromise the lives of our people,” he said.

A month earlier, on December 15, a huge crowd pushed its way towards the stage of the Tagum City Hall where Senator Emmanuel Pacquiao was speaking, eagerly awaiting the P1,000 giveaway for each of them.

Some netizens commented on Pacquiao’s social media page about the possible COVID spreader event. Netizens expressed concern that people did not seem to care. 

“It’s sad. It seems no pandemic took place that they disregard the Covid or the new variant,” said one netizen. “Because of the money, the people were no longer scared of Covid,” said another.

Pressured

Ariel Perote, CAPECs Secretary representing the faculty members of Briz Elementary School in Tagum City, said local officials may have been pressured to support House Bill 10554 considering that co-sponsor of this legislation is former House Speaker and 1st District of Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez.

Ako Bicol partylist Rep. Alfredo Garbin is the principal author of HB 10554 which seeks to expand the franchise of Davao Light to several towns of Davao del Norte and Davao de Oro.

Filed on November 29, 2021, the bill seeks to expand the franchise area of DLPC to include Tagum City, the Island Garden City of Samal and the municipalities of Asuncion, Kapalong, New Corella, San Isidro and Talaingod in Davao del Norte, and the municipality of Maco in Davao de Oro. 

Davao Light  is the third largest privately-owned electric distribution utility in the country in terms of customer size and annual kWh sales, according to its website. 

Davao Light’s franchise area covers Davao City, areas of Panabo City, and the municipalities of Carmen, Dujali, and Santo Tomas in Davao del Norte, with a population of approximately 1.8 million and a total area of 3,561 sq. kms.  As of December 2019, Davao Light served a total of 420,666 customers, with a recorded peak demand of 454 MW.

Before HB 10554 was filed, Davao Light’s franchise over the areas mentioned was extended for another 25 years through HB 6836 authored by Davao City Representatives Paolo Duterte, Isidero Ungab and Vincent Garcia and Representatives Sandro Gonzalez and Franz Alvarez in 2020 and passed in the same year into what is now Republic Act 11515. According to the website of the House of Representatives, the bill “lapsed into law” on December 26, 2020. 

HB 10554 was filed on November 29, 2021 as a substitute bill to HB 9978. Authored by Representatives Alfredo Garbin,  Franz Alvarez, Pantaleon Alvarez, Jericho Jonas Nograles, Xavier Jesus Romualdo and Edward Vera Perez Maceda, it had its first reading on the same day and was approved on second reading two days later, on December 1, 2021. 

The Committee on Legislative Franchises in its Committee Report No. 150 dated November 29, 2021 endorsed the substitute bill HB 10554 which provides for the expansion of Davao Light’s franchise area to include Tagum City, the Island Garden City of Samal, and the municipalities of Asuncion, Kapalong, New Corella, San Isidro and Talaingod in Davao Del Norte, and Maco town in Davao de Oro. 

These areas are presently covered by the franchise of Nordeco, according to Marilou Impuesto, Manager of its Institutional Services Department. Impuesto said Nordeco’s franchise in the mainland is until 2028 while the franchise in Samal is until 2033. 

“Even from national to local officials, it’s quite obvious that they supported (HB 10554). But since it’s election time, many of them would not play with this because the number of people who came here can be translated into votes,” Perote said in an interview at the rally.

He said CAPECs comprises 30 organizations from the different sectors who united to oppose the privatization of Nordeco.

If privatized, he said, “there will be no more voice and representation from the member-consumers-owners of Nordeco and Davao Light can increase their bills anytime they want without consulting us.”

Sitio Electrification Program 

CAPECs’ members were part of the manifesto signed by 94,000 Nordeco members, who stressed that privatization over the areas covered by Davao Light’s franchise application would adversely affect the national government’s Sitio Electrification Program (SEP) and deprive more than 600 still-to-be-energized sitios under Nordeco operation.

The Davao del Norte chapter of the National Center of Electric Cooperative Consumers, Inc. also supported Nordeco’s move, saying the SEP would no longer be given subsidies by the national government once it is operated by a “private-capitalist distribution utility firm like DLPC.”

Anti-riot policemen stands near the flag pole of the Provincial Capitol in Tagum City on Friday, January 14, 2022. MindaNews photo by CHRIS V. PANGANIBAN

Rep. Godofredo Guya of Rural Electric Cooperatives Board of Directors Association (Recoboda) party-list who spoke at the rally, said this is not only the fight of Nordeco but a fight of over 14 million consumers in the country. “We do not want this to be business-oriented, we want this to be service-oriented,” he said. 

Lawyer Janeene Depay-Colingan, general manager of the Philippine Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives (Philreca), said HB 10554  was hastily passed both in the Committee on Legislative Franchises and during the second reading in early December. 

“Philreac and Nordeco submitted our position papers addressing and debunking every point mentioned in the bill’s Explanatory Note but these were not even discussed. They simply insisted that the LGU (local government unit)  officials of the franchise area being considered have already spoken – which does not matter because as a cooperative, the voice that we should listen to are those of the member-owner-consumers, not of the politicians’,” she said in an earlier  press statement.

“It would constitute an unwarranted monopoly of distribution services, not just in the (country’s) largest city, but also in the two provinces of this huge (Davao) region,” added Philreca Rep. Presley De Jesus in another statement. (Chris V. Panganiban / MindaNews)