LEGAZPI CITY — The seemingly endless saga of Albay province’s lone electric cooperative continues. Already saddled with a four-month-old labor strike, the Albay Electric Cooperative is again facing another threat of power disconnection after it received on Wednesday the notice for its failure to settle last year’s outstanding power bills amounting to P300 million, an Aleco official said.
According to lawyer John Fernandez, vice chairman of the Aleco interim board, the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) served on Wednesday a notice that it would be forced to cut off power in the entire Albay if the electric cooperative would fail to settle its accounts within five days upon receipt of the notice received Friday, Jan. 10.
Fernandez said the cooperative has to settle its P300-million cumulative unpaid power bills for the months of September, October and November with the Philippine Electricity Market Corporation, the cooperative’s current power provider.
“Failure to settle this account would mean power blackout probably on Monday,” he disclosed.
Fernandez said the Aleco management could have settled the account had it not been for the on-going labor strike that had hindered the billing and collection operations of the cooperative.
Read related stories here:Gypped: 250,000 Aleco consumers face electric power rate increase and, here:ALECO Consumers Voted for Private Sector Management Instead of Coop to Coop Scheme
Tension has gripped the cooperative since Monday here as striking workers supported by the Albay Multi-Sectoral Stakeholders Organization set up a blockade at the gate of the compound, preventing employees to report for work and consumers from transacting business and paying their accounts with the cooperative.
The Legazpi City Police Office riot squad was present during the heated confrontation that occurred but both camps reportedly expressed dismay over the inability of the law enforces to prevent and control it.
At least 70 members of the Aleco Employees Union (ALEU) went on strike in September last year, put up a strike holding area in front of the Aleco entrance gate and have held on to their grounds until now.
The striking workers are not in favor of the takeover of the San Miguel Energy Corporation, the lone bidder of a concession contract agreement, which was awarded by the interim board chaired by Bishop Joel Baylon to run the electric cooperative for 25 years.
The striking workers also accused the Aleco management of violating provisions of the collective bargaining agreement signed by both parties.
Lawyer Nathaniel Lacambra, DOLE regional director, called for a closed-door mediation meeting last Wednesday with the officers of the union.
Legazpi cty mayor Noel Rosal said the case is being heard for arbitration as the issue on public interest is at stake.
He said a return-to-work order will be issued by the DOLE secretary.
Rosal said the return-to-work order would bring back normalcy to Aleco transactions and would also fast track the billing and collection processes to meet the settlement of the P300-million outstanding power bills with PEMC.
Aleco has a total of 450 personnel of this, 213 were rehired and the rest given separation pay.
Some P280 million was earmarked by SMEC for separation pay but only P70 million (25 percent) has been used for this purpose.
The AMMSO, led by lawyers Bartolome Rayco and Rechie Regala, is supporting the strikers, aside from providing them legal assistance. The group also opposes the takeover by SMEC.
The Rayco-led AMMSO allegedly accused the Aleco interim board of withholding to the public the concession agreement contract signed by SMEC and Aleco on Oct. 29, last year. Rayco even demanded that the Aleco provide them with a copy of the signed contract.
He expressed doubt that the interim board has been hiding the contract because, according to him, some of the provisions run counter to what was stipulated in the terms of reference crafted by the Aleco Board.
Along this line, Rosal on Wednesday met with the strike leaders and handed a copy of the concession contract to lawyer Donna Escio of the National Union of People’s Lawyers.
He said he is hoping that with the copy of the contract they were demanding, the strikers will start to end the four-month-long strike.
Escio said the contract will be thoroughly reviewed as to whether it indeed conforms to the provisions in terms of reference crafted by the interim board.
She said the strike will continue while they are still reviewing the contract. (PNA report Mar S. Arguelles)