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Opinion

Indentured

FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

At times it seems customers of inefficient electricity cooperatives are in actuality indentured to the power distributors.

Until we evolve the technology to transmit electricity by air, as we do with telephony, the cooperatives are natural monopolies in their franchise areas. To escape the incompetence and greed of some electricity cooperatives, customers will literally have to sell their homes and migrate elsewhere. But that is not always possible or feasible.

We have heard all the horror stories about inefficient electricity cooperatives. The mayors of several towns in Laguna are clamoring for their areas to be transferred to the Meralco franchise area for more reliable and cheaper service. The same is true for residents of Nasugbu in Batangas and several Pampanga towns.

Rural electricity cooperatives are notorious for their higher power costs, the poor quality of electricity delivered, long brownouts and questionable charges. It is not coincidental that areas covered by inefficient electricity cooperatives have the lowest rates of progress.

The poster boy for inefficient electricity cooperatives is probably Northern Davao Electric Cooperative (Nordeco). Its franchise area is beset with long power interruptions. Its customers are saddled with inexplicably high power costs. The otherwise promising tourist facilities in this franchise area have to rely on portable generators to keep their customers comfortable. The students miss online sessions because of the brownouts.

The affected residents have protested the situation several times. Last March, the Davao Consumer Movement joined the clamor of the local community to transfer to the Davao Light and Power Company.

The consumer protests have achieved nothing. Nordeco uses its franchise as a shield against progress. The cooperative continues in its incompetence. It has not extended services to the unserved communities within its franchise areas. It continues to impose mysterious charges on its hapless customers.

Once, during a hearing held in Davao City, Nordeco’s lawyer managed to irk Sen. Imee Marcos by claiming any attempt to alter their franchise will be unconstitutional. The senator shot down his argument by saying that the franchise is “a special privilege, it can be withdrawn at any time or diminished at any point for reasons meant for the public good.”

The exasperated consumers trapped within Nordeco’s franchise area are convinced they need some sort of legislative intervention to be freed from the cooperative’s oppressive power monopoly.

Earlier, a bill expanding the franchise area of Davao Light was passed with wide support from both chambers of Congress. President Bongbong Marcos, however, vetoed the bill with the observation that it infringes on Nordeco’s existing contractual obligation. The veto is probably ill-advised and downplays Congress’ exclusive power to determine whether a franchise should be renewed or revoked.

An improved version of the bill, however, has been reintroduced. It is sponsored by PBA Representative Margarita Nograles and Representative Sandro Marcos. It is supported by the Davao contingent in Congress, including: former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Sandro Gonzales, Maria Carmen Zamora, Allan Dujali and John Tracy Cabas.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, chair of the Senate energy committee, is more than supportive. He finds merit in the proposal to allow a new electricity provider to replace Nordeco.

Rep. Nograles believes the new bill addresses the concerns of the President. The draft legislation basically allows Davao Light to operate in the Nordeco franchise area.

This could be the redemption the weary customers of Nordeco have long been waiting for. They no longer want to remain enslaved to the incompetence and greed of a failed cooperative.

Redrawing

Once again, Beijing has gotten all its neighbors excited with its laughable territorial claims.

China last week released a new “standard” map defining its political boundaries. It includes parts of India, a small part of Russia and the entire South China Sea within its territory. The old “nine-dash line” has been upgraded into a “ten-dash line” to include waters east of Taiwan.

Someone in Beijing imagines growing China’s territorial compass can be achieved by the facile and unilateral act of redrawing the maps. Such imagination is possible only by a mind immune to the phrase “rules-based international regime.”

Expectedly, China’s regional neighbors raised a diplomatic howl, rejecting the “standard” map and condemning the expansionism this sneaky piece of work represents. India, Malaysia and the Philippines protested the loudest. This is yet another spectacle of China losing friends rather than winning them over.

The production of a new map changes nothing on the ground. All the other countries will not alter their boundaries only because Beijing has redrawn the maps. On the contrary, they will be more vigilant in asserting their own territorial claims.

Nor can a new map justify China’s aggressive actions in areas it claims to be its territory. Those aggressive actions will continue to be condemned by the community of nations.

By insisting that the entire South China Sea is its territory, Beijing makes itself a threat to freedom of navigation in the area. All the countries reliant on the international waterway will not take Beijing’s territorial ambitions lightly.

Last month, Beijing found the temerity to unilaterally declare a suspension of fishing activities in the South China Sea. All the Southeast Asian nations ignored the suspension. Beijing merely opened a door to repudiation.

Superfluous as her territorial claims are, Beijing just keeps repeating them – possibly in the hope that by repetition they become fact. Underneath the repetitive claims, we all know, is a terrible obsession with expansion. That is a long-term peril.

All Beijing accomplishes is to elevate itself to the status of a irritating neighbor.

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