By Isabel T. Escoda, Cebu City
THERE surely is nothing more humiliating than to have your picture taken (in the most unflattering pose possible) and have it published in SunStar Cebu with a prepared text under the heading of “Public Apology.” For some time now the newspaper has been regularly featuring those full-page notices showing glum-looking men and women who are made to declare “I promise never to steal electricity again.”
The rest of the text under the wretched photographs states that the apology is being made to the Visayan Electric Co. (Veco) “for violating Republic Act 7832, referred to as the anti-electricity and electric and transmission lines/materials pilferage Act of 1994, which is a law penalizing the stealing of electricity and theft of electric power transmission lines/material.”
The practice of stealing light has been all over the country before 1994. Power companies apparently thought that by having the government impose penalties for the misdemeanor, the theft would stop. But it’s still going on, with infractions occurring regularly. So the belief now has been that shaming electricity thieves would work better than imposing fines, most of which would never be collected because of the generally impecunious condition of the people concerned. The feeling of “uwaw” (“hiya” in Tagalog) is quite demeaning since accusing someone of being shameless is the lowest accusation one can make about a person. It’s a matter of losing face, one’s dignity and one’s self-respect.
Sadly almost always it’s impoverished folks who engage in pilfering electricity. Some could say that the act may highlight the ingenuity of the thieves since it involves secretly attaching magnetic jumpers to someone’s electric meter which means that the owner whose meter it is gets billed for the power used by the pilferer.
In a developing country like ours, providing electricity for over 100 million people is no joke. Astronauts in outer space looking down on our archipelago will invariably find large dark spaces in between lit-up cities and towns. From their anti-gravitational perch, they won’t be able to fathom the misery going on below them. They won’t see the families huddled over wood or charcoal stoves cooking their food with the help of candles or kerosene lamps. They won’t see how fires erupt in those poor enclaves which often raze whole neighborhoods. They won’t see men stumbling in dark alleys getting robbed and killed, or women being assaulted.
Rural electrification has long been a huge problem. It’s a vicious cycle which former President Fidel Ramos tried to stem by pushing for rural electrification. The thinking seemed to be that if more Filipinos had electricity, which would power television sets, they’d be more mesmerized by entertainment on small screens and engage in less hanky-panky in the dark which inevitably results in many trips to maternity clinics. Is it useless to hope that poor Filipinos engage in stealing light may no longer have to do so in the near future?