By Herbert Vego
“Information is liberating,” said the late United Secretary-General Kofi Annan during a BBC World Service lecture in New York on 10 December 2002.
The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) is the world’s oldest radio-transmission network formed in London in 1922, a hundred years ago.
Judging by the above quotation, MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power) has done more than necessary in keeping electricity consumers informed of its activities aimed at modernizing its facilities and services in Iloilo City through the radio.
The company maintains a Facebook page and other social media outlets where consumers may directly post comments and complaints. It has a media bureau that efficiently airs news updates and announcements through the streamline media.
Hats off to Sir Roel Z. Castro, the distribution utility’s president, for finding ways aimed at boosting the importance of information dissemination.
This writer learned from PR man Jonathan Cabrera that the company had launched a weekly radio program, “MORE Power at Your Service” in three radio stations in Iloilo City: Friday on Aksyon Radyo, 1:30-2:00 p.m.; Saturday on Bombo, 9-9:30 a.m.; also, on Saturday on RMN at 2:30-3:00 p.m.
In its first three broadcasts last Friday and Saturday, program host Joy Fantilaga had two department heads, Engr. Edwin Montemayor and Atty. Alyana Babayen-on, as resource persons.
Montemayor, who heads network operations, recalled how he and his staff had licked the pilferage problem through “Operation Valeria” – so-called because they had mapped an inti-pilferage strategy during a meeting on Valeria Street.
Power theft used to constitute 27.7 percent of system’s loss, which refers to power lost in transit from generating source to households, as well as power freely consumed by illegal connections.
The operation has obviously accomplished its mission. In their first two years of operation, the system’s loss had shrunk to as low as 7%.
“The Energy Regulatory Commission [ERC],” Montemayor said, “allows us only a 5.5% system’s loss. MORE shoulders the system’s loss incurred in excess of that limit.”
It is not only ordinary people whom the team has apprehended for power pilferage. They include prominent politicians, government officials, professionals and businessmen.
“We had difficult problems to solve,” Montemayor recalled. “There were times when entire street blocks suddenly lost power. We eventually figured out that such power outages were resulting from installation of ‘jumpers’ by pilferers, causing power overloading that tripped transformers off.”
He attributed their success to the cooperation of paying consumers who secretly reported the locations of gadgets used as jumpers.
“Operation Valeria” has dismantled thousands of illegal connections. Most of them have been allowed to connect legally after payment of differential billing, which is the amount charged for electricity illegally consumed.
That partially explains why, from 62,000 legitimate consumers, their number has jumped to now more than 91,000.
Atty. Allana Babayen-on, MORE Power’s legal officer, said that they had already filed 220 cases against suspected power pilferers before the city prosecutor, 157 of which had already reached the court.
She said, however, that for humanitarian reasons, the company had agreed to withhold charges against 76 other suspects who had negotiated for settlement of differential billings.
Power pilferage is a violation of Republic Act 7832 — an act penalizing the theft of electricity and transmission lines/materials. It imposes the penalty of prision mayor or a fine ranging from ten thousand pesos (P10,000) to twenty thousand pesos (P20,000) or both, at the discretion of the court.
As amended, Babayen-on elaborated, RA 7832 also prohibits “load-side connection,” which occurs when a non-customer taps electricity from a customer-neighbor, whether with or without the latter’s consent. In this case, the “generous” customer is even “guiltier” and be fined P2,000 while the pilferer, only P1,000.
If proven unaware of the attachment, the former may be “forgiven” provided the latter assumes the total penalty. Crime does not pay, indeed, but the criminal pays.
Meanwhile, this corner learned from MORE Power’s customer-care department head, Ma. Cecilia “Marical” Pe, that customers who fail to pay their bills on time may enjoy a grace period of 48 hours to pay, starting from the moment they receive disconnection notices.
They also have to pay a bill deposit equivalent to one billing period. Bill deposits paid to the previous distribution utility could not be counted.