The National Electrification Administration (NEA) punched a hole in the government’s bid to energize all sitios in the country by 2022 by scoring the mismatch between the government’s commitment to energize and the allocation of fund to serve the purpose.
Edgardo Masongsong, NEA administrator, said the marching order for all electric cooperatives (ECs) in the country is to energize all unserved sitios by the end of the Duterte administration but judging from the way Congress weighed in on the need to energize the far flung areas, the budget seems to be coming in trickles.
The Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco), just like the rest of the electric cooperatives (ECs) in the country, will bear the brunt of not being able to bring light to the remote areas due to luck of budget to extend its lines and poles, he said.
Masongsong, speaking before BENECO’s member consumer owners (MCOs) during their annual general membership assembly (Agma) at the Baguio City athletic bowl last Saturday, said that as of Dec., 2018, the country’s 121 ECs have energized 12.83 million households out of 14.3 potential connections or a success rate of 89.43 per cent.
This leaves 1.52 million households that still need to be energized at the cost of P41.04 billion, he said. But NEA’s request of P2.5 billion for 2019 alone was slashed to only P800 million, leaving the NEA and the ECs gasping for fund.
“How can we now energize all the sitios when the budget allocated for this year alone is too meager?” Masongsong asked, saying that the ECs alone cannot provide funds for the energization of the remaining unenergized sitios within their franchise areas since the ECs are non-stock and non-profit.
Last year, the Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Assn. (PHILRECA) took to task the Department of Energy’s refusal to include more budget for the ECs to accomplish the targets for sitio energization.
PHILRECA, the umbrella organization of the country’s ECs, said the DOE and Sec. Alfonso Cusi appeared insensitive to the plight of the ECs by saying that the ECs can now afford to energize their unserved and underserved areas.
In last year’s budget hearing, Sec. Cusi refused the help of some legislators to restore the budget cut of the NEA, claiming the ECs have enough profit to implement electrification.
This prompted the PHILRECA to call for Cusi’s resignation, saying the energy secretary misconstrued the nature of the operation of the ECs as the implementing arm of the government’s rural electrification program.
PHIRECA said that Cusi’s lukewarm reception of ECs totally ignored the fact that the success and gains of rural electrification since its inception during the Marcos era was attributed mainly to the ECs.
During the Agma, Masongsong said the ECs, aside from continuing to grapple with a meager budget for energization, must have to also confront pressing issues that tended to challenge the continuity of ECs.
“The ECs must strive to perform well so that they will remain to viable,” he said, hinting that private distributors have now expressed interest to apply for a franchise over the areas covered by the franchise of the ECs.
Masongsong said that the ECs, NEA and the member consumer owners (MCOs) must work together to protect the ECs.
This is the reason why the ECs came out strongly in supporting their party lists in the recent election, he said, referring to PHILRECA, APEC, RECOBODA and Ako Padayon Pilipino party lists which garnered a seat each in the coming Congress.
The administrator lauded BENECO for having the lowest electricity rate among all ECs in the country. He also cited the EC for its more than 99 per cent collection efficiency.
The administrator said that rural electrification is not only about bringing electricity to the farthest sitio or farthest household. “It is more of bringing about national development through rural electrification,” he said.
By Delmar Cariño