Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima urged her Senate colleagues to reject House Bill (HB) No. 4437 seeking to grant franchise to distribute electric power in the City of Iriga and the towns of Baao, Balatan, Bato, Buhi, Bula and Nabua in Camarines Sur to Bicol Light and Power Corporation (Bicol Light).
De Lima, who hails from Iriga City, said the important stakeholders, including incumbent Mayors of Camarines Sur, Bicol Electric Cooperative Association (BECA), and Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (PHILRECA) have all spoken out against the said measure.
“The people of Camarines Sur deserve better from the Senate. I, as a daughter of Iriga City, join my fellow Irigueños and my province mates in Cam. Sur in opposing this measure,” she said.
To date, CASURECO-III (Camarines Sur Electric Cooperative, Inc.-III) is facing a privatization battle against Bicol Light. The former strongly denounced and opposed HB No. 4437 that would grant franchise to the latter to “take-over” the cooperative.
“I call on my colleagues to reject HB 4437. Let us honor the existing legislative franchise of CASURECO III and protect the people of Camarines Sur,” added De Lima, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development.
De Lima explained that the determining circumstance in this case is the existence of a legislative franchise granted to CASURECO III in the area that overlaps with those which Bicol Light seeks to serve.
CASURECO III’s franchise will not expire until 6 June 2029.
“We are all witness to the dramatic turnaround of CASURECO III from a Category C electric cooperative in 2017 to a Category AA in 2019. This is testament to the resilience of this cooperative and its commitment to progress,” she said.
“The grant of a second distribution franchise in the area will undo this progress and set aside the hard work of the people of CASURECO III and its members,” she added.
Unlike Bicol Light, De Lima pointed out that CASURECO III seeks to provide electrification to its consumer-members within the framework of social justice and economic development.
“It is not driven by a capitalist appetite but by an overarching intent to serve and provide rural electrification,” she said.
The lady Senator from Bicol stressed that two power distribution companies cannot co-exist in one area as one is bound to put the other out of business because of the limited nature of the market.
“If Bicol Light puts CASURECO III out of business, it will be free to force its consumers to pay the cost of their entry to the market. Bicol Light does not seek to end a monopoly. It wants to be one,” she said.
If the Congress wants to give a chance to anyone to serve the people of Rinconada in Camarines Sur, De Lima said the former should give it to CASURECO III. Rinconada is the collective name of Iriga City and its six neighboring towns.
“We already gave them a franchise. We might as well honor it. They have been, thus far, proving that they can go the distance in providing good and affordable service to their consumer-members,” she said.
“It behooves us to let them stay the course and show to us that even electric cooperatives have their place in our country’s progress,” she added. (30)