THE Central Negros Electric Cooperative (Ceneco) and Primelectric Holdings Inc.,a subsidiary of Iloilo City-based More Power Corp., signed the joint venture agreement (JVA) at Scarborough Restaurant in Bacolod City on Saturday, June 3.

Signing on behalf of Ceneco is president Jojit Yap and Primelectric president and chief executive officer Roel Castro while Ceneco acting general manager Arnel Lapore acted as witness.

Also witnessing the signing were Negros Occidental Vice Governor Jeffrey Ferrer, Abang Lingkod party-list Rep. Stephen Paduano and majority of the barangay captains of Bacolod City.

Castro called the signing "historic" not only for Ceneco and More Power but also for its stakeholders.

The JVA will allow us to give better service within the power cooperative's franchise area, he said, adding that it can also now “extend technical and financial help to revive Ceneco.”

Ceneco covers Bacolod City, capital of Negros Occidental, and neighboring cities of Bago, Talisay, Silay and the municipalities of Murcia and Salvador Benedicto.

Lapore said Ceneco is having difficulty with its governance and resource management.

"The JVA will allow Ceneco to upgrade its infrastructure and address the power interruptions and system losses, which at their current status, we cannot do anything," he said.

He said that the cooperative will conduct a simultaneous plebiscite in its franchise area on June 24 and 25 and July 1 and 2 to approve the JVA.

Lapore added that a copy of the JVA will be spread out all over its coverage area.

"All will have a voice during the JVA. They can even campaign for their position on the JVA. They can either vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’" he said.

He pointed out that under Presidential Decree 269, when a cooperative disposes its assets, a majority consent from its consumers is needed.

"Proxy voting is also allowed as long as it is notarized," he said.

Castro said his company is eyeing an investment asset purchase of P1.7 billion with Ceneco depending how much are the total distribution assets.

"We are ready with P2 billion and a total investment pegged at P3.7 to P4 billion with the JVA," Castro also said.

Dwight Carbon, speaking on behalf of all the Ceneco directors, said they want to dissuade rumors that they are not doing anything on the board.

"The primary problem is money. Whatever we want to improve the services, the problem still is money. We don't have capital. We processed this the right way and followed guidelines from the National Electrification Administration (NEA)," Carbon said.

Paduano, meanwhile, challenged the oppositors of the JVA to lay down solutions to the problems facing the power firm.

Ferrer, for his part, also said his office at the Capitol is open to any opposition of the JVA.

“I dare them to convince me,” Ferrer said, adding "let the consumers decide."

"This is a good move of the Ceneco Board," he also said.

Ferrer said he discussed this with mayors of the local government units under the Ceneco franchise area and they decided to favor the joint venture.

Asked if the JVA could get the required approval of 50 percent plus one during the plebiscite, he said, "it may even reach more than the required numbers. This is because this concerns the consumer. This is advantageous for them."

"Ceneco is losing P20 million every month and they have a P800 million debt. How can you solve that? Come to my office and we will discuss that. If you could convince me I will join you. But give me a solution," Ferrer said.

The Bacolod City Sangguniang Panlungsod will conduct a public consultation on Monday, June 5, Councilor Claudio Puentevella, chair of the Committee on energy and public utilities, said.

Puentevella said they received a request from various groups in the city to hold a public consultation.

"We need to address their questions and we will hear the direct answer from Ceneco and More Power," he added.

Prior to the signing, Castro made a presentation on the services they have done with the power situation in Iloilo City before 40 of the 61 village chiefs and members of the Philippine Guardians Brotherhood Inc.

During his presentation, Castro said MORE Power will pay Ceneco 100 percent of its distribution assets. Of which, 70 percent will be in cash and 30 percent in shares in the new distribution company that will be put up and seek a Congressional franchise.

This will enable Ceneco to pay for its loans and for the retirement and separation pay for its employees, he said.

The remaining amount, he said can be utilized as payment for patronage refund to its member-consumers.

Castro assured power consumers of reasonable electrical rates by securing new power contracts from new suppliers through the Competitive Selection Process.

"Our priority is renewable energy," he said.

Under the JVA, he said, member-consumers are now assured of dividends every year.

“We will provide consumer-friendly service that will respond to complaints 24/7,” he said.

Castro said systems loss will greatly go down as the campaign against jumpers and power theft will be intensified.

Residents, especially those who are informal settlers, will now find it easier to have their own electrical connectors as documentary requirements will be minimized, he said.

Castro also committed to lessen incidents of unscheduled power interruptions.

Under the JVA company, employees of Ceneco will be prioritized in the hiring, he said.

Another commitment of Castro is the continuation of the Barangay Electrification Program of the national government.

"With stable power, new investors will come in which will mean more economic activity and employment opportunities for more people," he said.*