NEA to help cleanse Ceneco voters’ list

By Dolly Yasa

BACOLOD City – While it claims to have no interest in the outcome of Central Negros Electric Cooperative’s (Ceneco) Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) with a firm owned by billionaire Enrique Razon, the National Electrification Administration (NEA) said it will help ensure the integrity of the plebiscite on the matter.

In its July 4, 2023 memorandum, NEA Administrator Antonio Mariano Almeda said NEA is not in any way involved in the actual implementation of the plebiscite on Ceneco’s JVA with Primelectric Holdings Inc.

“For the avoidance of any doubt, no NEA personnel is involved in the information dissemination, receiving and/or tallying of votes. The NEA, to reiterate, has no interest in whether the JVA is approved or disapproved,” Almeda said.

Almeda issued the memorandum in response to the request of six mayors of cities and towns under the Ceneco franchise to suspend the plebiscite to cleanse the list of voters who happen to be Ceneco consumers.

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 calls for the postponement on the following grounds:

  1. That names of some consumers of good standing were not included in the voters list;
  2. That some of the names in the voters list were already deceased consumers; and
  3. That some of the names in the voters list have already relocated or can no longer be found.

NEA granted the request and postponed the plebiscite for 60 days “to ensure that this Plebiscite reflects the real choice of the bonafide member Consumers of CENECO, to properly decide the fate of the IVA, whether it is approved or disapproved.”

Almeda said NEA will help Ceneco on the following points:

– To verify and confirm, with the direct participation of designated NEA personnel, the accuracy of the Plebiscite’s VOTERS LIST, ensuring that only those eligible to vote are included therein; and

-To secure any and all systems, protocols, and/or procedures used to carry out the Plebiscite, to ensure that the same conform with the verified and confirmed voters list to be vetted by the NEA.

Almeda said NEA has the power to postpone the plebiscite and help organize the voters’ list pursuant to its powers under Republic Act No. 10531, particularly Section 6.

The section provides NEA the additional power to “issue orders, rules and regulations, motu proprio or upon petition of third parties, to conduct investigations, referenda and other similar actions on all matters affecting the ECs (electric cooperatives).

“CENECO formulated its Guidelines in the Conduct of Plebiscite for the Joint Venture Agreement of CENECO and Primelectric Holdings, Inc. which is, to reiterate and based on the information on-hand, is actually being carried out by CENECO’s personnel with the assistance of the Local Government Units concerned. Thus, it would be prudent to extend the assistance requested by those on the ground – that the NEA ‘first verify and ensure the sanctity of the voters list before the Plebiscite is allowed to further proceed’,” Almeda added.

Meanwhile, Primelectric Holdings Inc., said it will abide by NEA’s order to temporarily suspend the plebiscite.

“We support this step towards ensuring a more reliable and trustworthy outcome for the plebiscite,” Primelectric CEO Roel Castro said on Thursday.

Castro further said that “this cleansing process will undoubtedly contribute to a more credible result that reflects the will of CENECO’s member-consumers.”

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.

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.