Business owners here have joined the clamor for a new power utility to replace the Northern Davao Electric Cooperative (Nordeco) which they claimed to have been charging exorbitant power rates to its member-consumers in Davao de Oro and some parts of Davao del Norte.
The 3,000 people-strong motorcade-rally on Monday that culminated at Rotary Park in Barangay Magugpo Poblacion was meant to bring awareness to the people and show support to bills being filed in Congress that would expand the coverage of Aboitiz-owned Davao Light and Power Co (DLPC) to include Nordeco's franchise area, according to Aerol Conde, former president of Tagum City Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TCCCI).
Ryan Amper, convenor of advocacy group Davao Consumer Movement (DCM), said Nordeco had 'become inefficient, severely impacting the communities it purports to serve.' He called the power coop's services as 'substandard, lacking transparency.'
Business owners have complained about Nordeco's higher power rates compared to its regional peers like DLPC but Nordeco officials explained in a separate press briefing that the electric cooperative had higher power rates compared to DLPC mainly because the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management (PSALM) allocated a larger volume of cheap hydropower from the Agus and Pulangi power plants to the Aboitiz-owned power distribution company.
Elvera Alngog, Nordeco acting general manager, said that for the February billing period, the power rates of the cooperative had gone down by P2 to P15 per kilowatt hour from P17 per kwh after Psalm added 20 megawatts (MW) to the 15 MW of cheap hydropower that it supplied the cooperative each month.
She said the cheap hydro power that Psalm supplied to DLPC covered 50 percent of the distribution firm's total energy demand in Davao City while the 35 MW of cheap hydropower that Nordeco got from Psalm only recently covered a mere 30-percent of the cooperative's 111-MW demand in its franchise area. Nordeco officials said they were willing to reach out and explain to the business sector the issues that the latter brought up against the cooperative.
Among those who joined the rally, Dr. Bernardo Ang, chair of the Davao Regional Medical Center (DRMC) Department of Surgery, complained against the power outages that occurred during surgeries. He said that if a patient died under this circumstance, the power utility had partly to answer.
He and Virgilio Agunod, former president of the business organization, also tagged Nordeco for being not transparent in their billing.
Agunod said the cooperative must explain the bills considering that its consumers were paying high compared with other distribution providers in the region.
Davao del Norte 1st district Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez re-filed House Bill No. 5077 that seeks to expand DLPC's coverage to the cities of Tagum and Samal and the towns of Kapalong, Asuncion, San Isidro, New Corella and Talaingod in Davao del Norte as well as the town of Maco in Davao de Oro.
Three other house bills pushed for DLPC expansion in parts or in whole within Nordeco's franchise area; namely: HB 6995 by Davao de Oro 1st district Rep. Maricar Zamora and Davao del Norte 1st district Rep. Alan Dujali; HB 6740 by PBA Rep. Margarita Ignacia Nograles, and HB 7047 by Marino party list Rep. Sandro Gonzales.
While the rest of the congressional measures seek a wider expansion of the DLPC franchise, HB 6995 sought to expand the Aboitiz power utility's coverage area only in Samal.
Aside from Davao City, DLPC is currently serving Panabo City and the towns of Carmen, Braulio Dujali and Sto. Tomas of Davao del Norte.
But Nordeco officials expressed confidence that the President would veto anew the four bills because of 'legal and constitutional infirmities.'
Lawyer David Campoamor, Nordecolegal counsel, described the four proposed bills as 'unconstitutional,' since the electric cooperative's franchise still had to end in 2028 and 2033 respectively.
He cited section 27 of Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) which allows electric cooperatives in the country to operate in full term.
'To let us stop operation is a violation of our constitutional right since we still have more years to operate before we renew our franchise,' Campoamor said.
Lawyer Jorge Rapista, another counsel for Nordeco, said the four proposed legislation showed the same content as the earlier House Bill 10554, also authored by Alvarez vetoed by President Marcos last year.
On March 9, two major energy consumer groups the Coalition Against Privatization of Electric Cooperatives (Capecs) and the National Center of Electric Consumers Cooperative (NCECCO) staged a prayer vigil and candle-lighting in Tagum City to protest proposals in Congress to expand the franchise of DLPC.
Protests snowball vs proposed Davao power firm's franchise takeover of electric cooperative areas
In the manifesto of support to Nordeco, Capecs called on critics to respect the franchise of Nordeco; for government prioritize and give equal attention to Nordeco and all electric cooperatives in the distribution of cheap hydropower and renewable energy from Psalm especially in the missionary electrification program; and the strengthening of electrification services and programs of electric cooperatives through legislative interventions and laws, not privatization by profit-oriented companies.
Capecs also warned that the takeover of Nordeco would eventually result in the monopoly of private for-profit entities in the energy sector, depriving people in the countryside of their rights and opportunities to own electric cooperatives.