REPORTS, COMPLAINTS. Members of the Cebu City Council have been besieged with information and complaints about people purportedly with the crews of Visayan Electric Co. (Veco) demanding or asking for fees to have a neighborhood, building, or house re-lighted or energized again.

Thus Councilor Eugenio Gabuya Jr. told a Veco official at the regular session of the Sanggunian Wednesday, January 12. And the official, Mark Anthony Kindica, assistant vice president for engineering operations, said they themselves at Veco also received similar reports and complaints.

Kindica said Veco has been turning over to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) information it receives about the much-talked-about side issue in the wake of Typhoon Odette, which struck Cebu last December 16, 2021.

BILLING JUST DEFERRED. Another major disclosure of Kindica: The Veco announcement there would be no billing from December 16 to 31 does not write off what the consumer must pay for energy supplied earlier or after service is restored. It means only that the consumer gets a breather of sort. The next bill he gets may be more than the usual for one month, especially if service to his household or business has already resumed.

In answer to another inquiry from Minority Floor-leader Nestor Archival Sr., the Veco official said top management will take up the matter of staggered payment for bills that are much bigger than usual.

SAME DEADLINE. Engineer Kindica also said Veco sticks to the same deadline, January 31, to complete the restoration of power in its franchise area.

Although at one point he said the word "majority," Kindica used "100%" in restating the commitment to its public. In Cebu City, he said, 132,000 of 215,339 households, or 61.5 percent, are already getting Veco service.

REPS FROM PUBLIC UTILITIES. Engineer Kindica was among the persons invited by the City Council to Wednesday's regular session, to inform city residents, through their local legislators, on the status of the work of electric companies Veco and Cebeco, water suppliers MCWD and Lilia Water Supply, and telecoms Globe, Smart and PLDT, Sky and CCTN to restore their services.

VECO STAND. The position of Veco has been specific and clear: The company does not approve of any payment for restoration of service and asks the public, in a series of announcements, to report to its office any such attempt from anyone.

Yet the reports have persisted, not just about requests or demands for payment but of actual payments with specific amounts mentioned. Councilor Gabuya said that at first, he didn't believe the talk but was later convinced that the cases of exaction were true. That becomes corruption, he said, particularly if Veco didn't authorize it or receive any part of the money.

Councilor Alvin Dizon said Veco needs to do more than disown and condemn the acts, which amount to a criminal offense. Veco has to lead the initiative to identify and prosecute the suspected offenders.

THE MODUS. Apparently, Gabuya said, from the cases he learned about, the system is to approach would-be payors when a place or structure is about to be re-lighted. The extortion is done by people who know the schedule of re-energization. In one neighborhood, the association official broached the idea of paying to residents on the eve of the re-lighting. They decided not to pay, Gabuya said, the lights came back anyway.

The councilors don't think Veco has anything to do with the "scam" but its system may be a bit flawed to allow persons to exploit the project.

The scammers may be emboldened by the likelihood that no one will report an attempted or actual cash payment to avoid any hassle or for fear of reprisal from the linemen and contractors involved.

THE REPAIR SETUP. Veco chief publicist Queenie S. Bronce told Explainer Wednesday, January 12, the procedure in the restoration work, thus:

"We have a team of engineers who act as coordinators. One coordinator per LGU (local government unit). Each coordinator has a team composed of surveyors, sweepers and gangs (crew). Surveys are done first, then line work or repair will depend on the surveys done. Areas that have minimal damage will be prioritized. Priority hierarchy is -- densely populated areas, minimal damage."

From that, one may have an idea who decides which area is re-lighted first. Or one may not: Who says this, not that, gets lighted tomorrow or the next day? Or is that information shared by everyone at Veco with a hard hat?

AMBIVALENT RESPONSE. Many residents are grateful to the workers from outside the province whose employers sent to Cebu to help, out of patriotism, civic-mindedness, or sense of sisterhood/brotherhood, or in return for a past favor from Veco and Cebu City. The talk about some people making money out of a good thing has pissed them off.

The visiting workers, Bronce said, are paid salaries by their respective employers and Veco provides food, accommodation, and gas for trucks. Locals have publicly expressed that gratitude, mostly in social media, to those workers. Local governments, such as the Provincial Government, give or plan to give stipends to the workers.

Some residents who fussed over the reported demands for payment said they were willing to give a cash gift but they wanted the money to reach the workers themselves, not some "enterprising" persons who were taking advantage of the people's gratitude and the benevolence of strangers in the time of tragedy.