Caring for power consumers

By Herbert Vego

“THE right man for the job is a woman,” says a decal.

That is how I see the role of Ms. Ma. Cristina “Maricris” de Guzman Cabalhin as MORE Electric & Power Corporation’s vice president for marketing and corporate affairs; and as head of the customer care department.

This winsome lady joined the company only one year ago, armed with a bachelor’s degree in communication arts from De La Salle University and 25 years of corporate exposure in various industries, including Palm Concepcion Power Corp. (PCPC) in Concepcion, Iloilo.

The first time I interviewed her for the “Tribuna sang Banwa” program on Aksyon Radyo, she waxed ecstatic over the exponential growth of MORE Power in cooperation with Iloilo City Mayor Jerry P. Treñas.

To reiterate, MORE Power took over from the previous distribution utility with 62,000 customers in 2020.  Today, it has 94,000 and still counting. This success she traced to the able leadership of MORE Power President Roel Z. Castro.

“What is his secret?” I asked.

“If it were a secret,” she bantered, “I would not know. What I know is that he practices leadership by example. He works hard with the laborers. And because he has a heart beating for Iloilo city, he employs experts who could provide the best customer service.”

The so-called “I-Konek” program, she revealed, serves to discourage power pilferers and to encourage them to legally connect. The certified indigents may apply for discounted rates and even free electricity as long as they don’t consume more that 20 kilowatt-hours per month.

“It means simplifying the procedure,” Cabalhin said. “We allow urban settlers with no homes and lots of their own to apply for metered connections with very few requirements. Those who persist in stealing electricity, regardless of their social status, risk being caught on camera by our roving guards and brought to court.”

By operation of law (Republic Act 7832), power theft is now a very serious crime that is punishable up to 12 years imprisonment or fine ranging from ₱50,000 to ₱100,000, or both at the discretion of the court.

The distribution utility today boasts of the capacity to meet the city’s peak requirement of 120 megawatts, with room for 80 more megawatts.

As reported by the Daily Guardian the other day, MORE Power’s P96.4-million underground cabling project along J.M. Basa Street is expected to be completed by June 2024. According to Engr. Bernard Bailey Del Castillo, vice president for network operations, undergrounding will eliminate the risks of geckos, birds, and rats encroaching the overhead lines and will ensure a safer and more reliable electrical infrastructure.

Asked about their expansion program (Republic Act 11918) to Passi City and 15 neighboring municipalities — Alimodian, Leganes, Leon, New Lucena, Pavia, San Miguel, Santa Barbara, Zarraga, Anilao, Banate, Barotac Nuevo, Dingle, Duenas, Dumangas and San Enrique — Cabalhin enthused that the groundwork is now underway. Installation of connections, however, would have to wait until the issuance of a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN), hopefully in 2024, by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

“We now have a branch office in the town of Pavia,” Cabalhin said. “We aim to build a new substation in Santa Barbara.”

The three branches of the Iloilo Electric Cooperative (ILECO) had opposed the expansion law since it would compete with and end their monopoly; and had formally opposed it in a petition before the Supreme Court.

But the legislators who sponsored the law — notably Braeden John Biron (4th district, Iloilo) and Michael Gorriceta (2nd district, Iloilo) – stressed that the competition could result in lower power rates and force the ILECOs to improve their poor services.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of Christmas, MORE Power is working with the City Environment & Natural Resources Office (CENRO) on two giant Christmas trees at Plaza Libertad and Jaro Plaza.