Who’s going to pay Olongapo’s ‘electrifying’ P4-billion debt?
Olongapo City, classified as a highly urbanized city with a population of around 350,000, may be on the brink of a power crisis.
It may be noted that because of a P54-million debt, the First Gen Hydro Power Corp. stopped supplying power to the Pantabangan Municipal Electrical Services, the electric cooperative owned and run by the municipal government of Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija.
Records from the National Power Corp. show that in 2004, Olongapo’s electricity bill was only around P70 million. After six years of Mayor James “Bong” Gordon Jr.’s administration, it has ballooned to around P2 billion. Electric power distribution in Olongapo is managed by the local Public Utilities Department (PUD).
As this letter is written, the debt has reached the staggering amount of P4 billion, this time owed to the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM). Recently, Mayor Gordon admitted that indeed the Olongapo has outstanding “electric loans,” but he also insists that the city government has been paying them. Unfortunately, he will not categorically state how much the loan is and why it has ballooned over the years. If not for news report on the electric crisis in Nueva Ecija (“Brownouts to hit 2 provinces, city,” Inquirer, 2/12/13), Olongapo’s P4-billion debt may not yet be out in the open. It was no less than Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla who mentioned it. And yet, Mayor Gordon, with conviction, assures his constituents that there will be no power disruption nor power shortage, and that the PUD has not received any notice of power disconnection from PSALM. The assurance may have some truth to it; after all, the majority of the city’s councilors have approved the sale of PUD to the Cagayan Electric Power & Light Co., which will eventually take over PUD’s functions and services.
But what then happens to the P4-billion debt? Will this be assumed by the new owners and eventually passed on to the unfortunate consumers, in effect raising the electricity rates in Olongapo? Will the national government step in to at least investigate why such an anomaly came to pass, and why was this allowed to go on for many years? Will the advocacy of President Aquino on transparency and accountability hold fast in this case?
You cannot help but wonder why, despite Olongapo’s shocking and unbelievable debt of P4 billion, Mayor Gordon remains untouchable!
—GUMERSINDO M. GARCIA III, MD, FPSGS, FPCS
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