10 March 2012

Renewal, Reform and Rehabilitation

A Pastoral Letter on the Albay Electric Cooperative (ALECO)

“A clean heart create for us, O God; renew within us a steadfast spirit.” cf. Ps 51,12

Dear People of God:
It has been more than a year since I was requested to take part in looking for solutions for our embattled ALECO, solutions both urgent and long-term, effective and beneficial to all. From my humble knowledge and engagement with our electric cooperative, I would like to speak now as a pastor looking after the hopes and fears of the people of our province in these trying times.

The problems of ALECO did not happen overnight. They were brought about by a system that has not done enough in implementing checks and balances, nor in pursuing accountability on the part of those entrusted with running the cooperative. Add to this a legislation that puts a vital service such as the supply of electricity at the whim and mercy of market forces. In the end, it is the people, especially the poor, who suffer the most for the wrongs they have not done and for sins they have not committed.

At the outset, we acknowledge the assistance and leadership of President Benigno Aquino III, together with the Department of Energy and the National Electrification Administration, in finding ways to resolve these problems. Nonetheless, we call upon them still not to abandon Albayanos in this struggle. It is a matter of social justice and good governance that they must commit everything in their power to help in the rehabilitation of our cooperative.

We welcome the initiatives of our local political leaders in advocating the cause of ALECO. Decisiveness and genuine concern for our people will pave the way out of our dire situation and bring about progress and unity. However, prudent intervention ends when a return to patronage politics begins. We call upon our local leaders to continue to support the independent governance of our cooperative and not let bad politics corrupt it yet again.

We also appreciate the various individuals and groups who have invested much time and effort in finding long-term solutions to our recurring problems while upholding the spirit of genuine cooperativism and the demands of justice. However, good intentions need also the open mindedness to seek to understand other points of view and form a realistic self-assessment of strengths and limitations. Such balancing act may even produce better ideas and better venues for collaboration.

We have used the analogy of a sick person who is hemorrhaging to death as an apt description of the sad condition of our electric cooperative. In this regard, we have tried a number of measures to remedy the situation, among them the Special Payment Agreement. Yet much is still required.

We have listened to various stakeholders and a few proposals in their initial stages. However we do not have the luxury of time. A major part of the problem is high systems loss aggravated by substandard equipment and depreciating facilities, and low collection efficiency. And because we are not able to pay our bills, our debt continues to balloon out of proportion and the threat of disconnection looms over us.

Soon we will have to make a decision about what is best for ALECO. In the process of accepting and evaluating various proposals, and the eventual approval of the most suitable, we would like to submit the following principles for consideration.

1.      The welfare of Albayanos is the first priority. Translated to the services being offered by ALECO, this means a stable supply of electricity, reasonable rates, and sustained rural electrification, among other things. Whatever solution may be offered must have the common good as its top priority.

2.      The preservation of our cooperative nature is our preferred position. An ably run electric cooperative, together with judicious government oversight and strong support from member-consumers, is still the most ideal situation for Albayanos. Considering our not so ideal circumstances however, our no-to-privatization stand cannot extend to the exclusion of other solutions that may involve the infusion of private capital and resources if the situation so requires. The measure of a righteous stand is not whether it fits a certain ideology but whether it is truthful, just and fair, and leads to an option that benefits our people the most.

3.      Obligations should be acknowledged and settled. While the priority are the member-consumers, the obligations to suppliers, those from whom we have outstanding debts, and the employees, need to be given importance as well. Any proposal to be considered must abide by this principle. This, however, does not rule out efforts at securing reasonable loan payment restructuring and seeking judicial remedy against payment of unjust debts.

4.      Transparency and accountability need to be ensured in the service of truth and justice. The process of choosing the pathway to rehabilitation and turn-around must be done with utmost transparency in order to be fair and credible to member-consumers and stakeholders. Shady deals and undue influencing cannot be tolerated. The wrongdoings of the past need to be investigated and those liable must be brought to justice. Government officials, administrators, employees, volunteers, and those helping ALECO in any way, must bear in mind that they are accountable to the people of Albay.

5.      Real rehabilitation will be realized only through meaningful reforms. Our present situation may seem bleak at the outset, but we also recognize that we have before us the opportunity to finally leave behind this dark chapter of our cooperative’s history. If we are to move forward, we cannot afford to regress to the old ways of complacency and corruption. A healthy rehabilitated ALECO is not an impossible dream, but it will happen only if meaningful reforms are instituted as soon as possible.

As we journey through the season of Lent, the need for reconciliation, conversion and renewal becomes even more urgent in our relationship with God and with each other. We need to be reconciled with our true identity as God intends us to be. The Father of mercies has given us an example of unselfish love in the sacrifice of His Son. Jesus humbled himself for our sake that we may follow his example. We are thus redeemed persons, capable of going beyond the temptation of selfishness and journeying together towards a deeper concern for one another and for the common good.

In more concrete terms, we need to rekindle the very purpose of our cooperative: that is to serve our people and in so doing contribute to the progress and development of our families and communities, province and country. In order for ALECO to be renewed and transformed, we the people that compose it need to be renewed and transformed as well.

May the Almighty God bless our efforts with success and bring them all to fulfillment.

Sincerely in the Lord,

Bishop of Legazpi

Rev. Fr. Rex Paul B. Arjona

7 March 2012

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