By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – The Lanao del Sur Electric Cooperative (Lasureco) management has disclosed its actual debts compounded to P14.9-billion in decades and heralded its related operational woes, gaining “priority” attention from the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) governance.
Of the total debts, roughly P12.6-billion is owed to the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation (PSALM) while P2.3-billion is payable to the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), according to Kince Panondiongan, Laureco executive assistant.
Panondiongan revealed the compounded debts and other Lasureco pressing concerns at the October 9 episode of the Tapatan Forum of the Bangsamoro Press Corps (BPC), during which BARMM Spokesman Naguib Sinarimbo served as a main guest and provided instant reassuring reactions.
The two officials corroborated persistent suggestions that the only way to settle the spiking arrears, which began from about P2-billion over a decade ago, is for authorities or the national government to condone the debts.
Panondiongan said the LASURECO has been given an average of 38 megawatt to a maximum of 50MW supply and could not seek additional wattage for ample energy in Marawi City and Lanao del Sur because of its ballooning debts to PSALM and NGCP.
He said the problem is aggravated by Lasureco’s high system loss and low collection efficiency due to varied causes ranging from technical to non-technical origins, including consumer-residents’ “mindset” in asserting Maranaos own Lake Lanao, the source of energy, and should therefore not pay power bills.
To address the adversarial “mindset,” Lasureco has programmed a series of village and town-level dialogs in all of 41 municipalities in Lanao del Sur and in Marawi City, Panondiongan said as he asked for media campaign support.
The problem is also aggravated by cases of power interruptions in areas with dilapidated lines that never underwent rehabilitation for 40 years until the current leadership of General Manager Nordjiana Dipatuan-Ducol initiated efforts to repair the lines and convert them from single-pace to three-pace gradually, he said.
He said the Lasureco has crafted a three-year rehabilitation campaign called CAPEX projects for 2022-2024 costing P1.458-billion to install KWH meters and meters and instrument transformers in 41 towns, feeder metering to power substations and switch power capacitors; acquire engineering software and tools, service vehicles (4 x 4 pick-up), and line protectors; and construct 20MVA additional power substations, 69KV Sub-transmission lines, among others.
Panondiongan said the Lasureco has strongly sought possible assistance from the BARMM governance not only in the acquisition of funds for the rehabilitation efforts but also in its prayer for the national government to condone the ballooning debts.
BARMM ‘priority’ attention
In instant response, Sinarimbo recalled that the issues on spiking debts of Lasureco and other power cooperatives in the autonomous region were discussed in Kuala Lumpur between peace panels of the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front before the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in 2014.
When the BARMM governance was created in 2019, Sinarimbo said Japanese government officials and counterparts in the Philippines met at the Clark Air Base to tackle pressing concerns in the autonomous region, including problems on energy.
He said the Philippine officials led by Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez pronounced an “open” position on the call for the writing off of existing power cooperatives’ standing debts.
However, he said, no follow-up meeting on the issue was held since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, to which the government time and resources have been focused.
Sinarimbo said that from the BPC Tapatan forum discussion, he would take up in the BARMM cabinet meeting soon the Lasureco prayer for debt condoning for possible inclusion in the upcoming table conference with the IGRB led for the national government by Sec. Dominguez and co-chaired by Minister Mohagher Iqbal for the regional bureaucracy.
He said Sec. Dominguez has been “very supportive” to the call for writing off of BARMM-based power cooperatives’ debts as a precondition for the autonomous region to industrialize regional agricultural activities.
He recalled Chief Minister Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim having told him once that the problem of ballooning debts of power cooperatives in the region would for part of “priority” agenda that they would discuss in upcoming meetings of the Inter-Governmental Relations Body (IGRD), a bilateral group of regional and national officials tasked to craft all possible remedies to government-related setbacks in the autonomous region. (AGM)