NEA grants temporary pause in Ceneco JVA plebiscite

By Dolly Yasa

BACOLOD City – The National Electrification Administration granted the request of local chief executives under the franchise area of Central Negros Electric Cooperative (Ceneco) led by Bacolod City Mayor Alfredo Albee Benitez to temporarily suspend the plebiscite on the cooperative’s Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) with Primelectric Holdings Inc. to cleanse the voters’ list.

Ceneco acting general manager Atty.  Arnel Lapore told Daily Guardian that because of this, the plebiscite on July 8 and 9, 2023 is cancelled.

“The Ceneco Board of Directors has already directed the management to inform the public of the cancellation of the plebiscite set on July 8 and 9, until further notice,” Lapore said.

The plebiscite aims to secure the nod of the majority of Ceneco consumers to the JVA. Ceneco serves around 210,000 consumers, but the number of eligible voters in the plebiscite is only 192,188.

The eligibility is primarily based on the residency and payment status of a consumer. In the first round of the plebiscite on June 24-25, only 14 percent of the eligible consumers voted.

The JVA can only be ratified by the majority (50 percent plus 1 person) of the eligible voters.

Earlier, Mayors Alfredo Abelardo Benitez of Bacolod City, Nicholas Yulo of Bago City, Jesus Antonio Neil Lizares III of Talisay City, Joedith Gallego of Silay City, Gerry Rojas of Murcia, and Mayor Laurence Marxlen dela Cruz of Don Salvador Benedicto asked NEA Administrator Antonio Mariano Almeda to postpone the plebiscite.

The mayors said in a letter to Almeda that they received complaints from Ceneco consumer-members that their names were not included in the voter’s list, while some names in the list were already dead. Others either relocated or could no longer be found.

Benitez said some consumers of good standing were not on the list.

“Para ma-limpyo ang masterlist kay may ara complaint nga gin-forward sa akon office nga may bill, sila gabayad for several years sila pero wala sila sa listahan,” Benitez  said.

The verification of the list of voters will ensure the sanctity of the JVA plebiscite before its process is allowed to further proceed, the mayors said.

As to the purging of names in the Ceneco master list, Lapore said they will leave it to NEA, stressing that they have skilled personnel who can handle it.

Lapore also said that the Ceneco board is supporting the call of the mayors.

“There is a basis for it. We deemed it proper, to also call for the attention of NEA, to look into it,” Lapore said, apparently referring to the master list of Ceneco member-consumers.

In a memorandum dated July 4, Almeda said “there exist valid grounds to grant the local chief executives’ request.”

But Almeda stressed that prior to the receipt of the (mayors’) letter, NEA is not in any way involved in the actual implementation of the plebiscite.” His context was the attempt of anti-JVA groups to takeover Ceneco offices last week and subvert the plebiscite.

“For the avoidance of any doubt, no NEA personnel is involved in the information dissemination, receiving and/or tallying of votes. Thus, NEA, outside of what is reported in the news and what its personnel has personally experienced, has no way to confirm any information regarding the alleged ‘subversion’ of the plebiscite.”

Almeda also noted that “cooperatives by nature and principle are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions.”

“This ‘control’ is exercised by a cooperative’s members, such as CENECO’s Member-Consumer-Owners (MCOs), through their vote, which in this case is through the subject Plebiscite. The NEA, to reiterate, has no interest in whether the JVA is approved or disapproved. It is however concerned with the protection of the rights of CENECO’s MCOs in that their votes are properly accounted for, and that the legitimate processes wherein they exercise these rights are protected,” Almeda said.

“Thus, to ensure that the MCO’s rights are not disenfranchised and whatever result may arise from the Plebiscite is indeed a true reflection of their collective will, the voters list for the Plebiscite must indeed be verified, purged of ineligible voters, and that the names of those eligible to vote be included in the same,” he added.

If the JVA materializes, Primelectric will infuse capital and financial resources into Ceneco’s distribution system, through the joint venture company Negros Electric and Power Corp. (NEPC).

NEPC is a sister company of Iloilo City-based distribution utility MORE Power Iloilo.

Lapore said Ceneco will have 30 percent ownership in NEPC, which is worth more than P800 million, while Primelectric will own 70 percent valued at P1.4 billion.