Bishops enjoin consumers to join Ceneco JVA plebiscite 

(L-R) Bishop Louie Galbines of Kabankalan, Bishop Marvyn Maceda of San Jose de Antique, Archbishop Jose Romeo Lazo of Jaro, Bishop Patricio Buzon of Bacolod and Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos. (Photo Courtesy of Gerardo Alminaza/file)

By Dolly Yasa

BACOLOD City – Whatever their stand is on the issue, the bishops of the three Catholic Dioceses in Negros Island called on the electric consumers of Bacolod, Talisay, Silay, Bago Don Salvador Benedicto, and Murcia covered by Central Negros Electric Cooperative (Ceneco) franchise to exercise their right to vote in the plebiscite on the Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) proposal between Ceneco and Primelectric Holdings Inc.

In a joint statement issued during the weekend Bishops Patricio Buzon of Bacolod Diocese, Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos Diocese, and Louie Galvinez of Kabankalan Diocese urged the consumers “to study the terms of the JVA in careful detail and make reasoned judgments on their impact and consequences,” guided by the spirit of cooperativism which has guided Ceneco since its founding.

The bishops also called on the Primelectric and Ceneco management, and other stakeholders “to observe transparency and accountability in the process of defining the terms of the JVA.”

Citing the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, the bishops reminded everyone that “all business ventures must be mindful of the common good, putting the service of mankind above personal interests.”

It also encouraged Ceneco management and consumers “to seek government support and work for truly mutually beneficial terms with Primelectric Holdings Inc., or whoever the cooperative will have to partner with.”

Furthermore, they also challenged Ceneco to be truly an authentic cooperative after admitting its inutility to provide reliable and cheaper electricity to its constituents.

Earlier, Ceneco acting general manager Atty. Arnel Lapore said that Ceneco is deeply indebted to the government and private banks and that it lacks the capital expenditure to maintain standard and reliable facilities.

Because of these woes, Ceneco was forced to charge higher fees for electricity per kilowatt-hour and services.

The plebiscite on the JVA resumed on August 19 and 20, to be followed on August 26 and 27, and the last two days will be on September 2 and 3, 2023.

Lapore said that he is optimistic about the result of the plebiscite in the three weekends that were set for the eligible consumers to vote on the JVA.

Lapore reiterated his appeal to eligible consumer-members to exercise their right to vote after the National Electrification Administration (NEA) approved the resumption of the plebiscite on the JVA.

NEA approved the resumption of voting after “cleansing” the list of consumers who are eligible to vote.

The number of qualified member-consumers allowed to vote in the plebiscite was reduced by 15,000 – from 192,000 to 177,000 – after the master list was cleansed of double entries and member-consumers who either died or could not be located in their addresses in Ceneco’s service areas.

The JVA plebiscite was suspended in early July 2023 due to the validation of the master list of Ceneco member consumers.

NEA approved the suspension of the JVA vote upon the request of local chief executives of cities and towns under Ceneco’s service area.

Primelectric is aiming to acquire Ceneco’s distribution assets, which is estimated at P2.4 billion, on a 70-30 arrangement – 70 percent will be in cash and 30 percent in shares in the new distribution company, Negros Electric and Power Corp., which will be put up and acquire a Congressional franchise.

The firm committed more or less P2 billion for the asset cash purchase and around P2.2 billion in working capital, with total investment estimated at P3.7 billion to P4 billion.

The plebiscite was rolled out after Ceneco and Primelectric signed the JVA on June 3, 2023.

Lapore justified the JVA as a way to solve Ceneco’s financial woes which include P20 million monthly losses and an P800-million debt.

Most of the losses are attributed to systems loss or electricity lost to technical factors and pilferage or theft.

Primelectric is the parent company of MORE Power, which took over as the sole power distributor in Iloilo City four years ago.