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FORGING CHANGE TOWARDS NATION BUILDING

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Total electrification of the country has played a key role in accelerating the development agenda of the national government. From facilitating access of rural Filipinos to basic social services, to generating livelihood opportunities in the country’s remote areas, the Philippine Rural Electrification Program has been a model for other Asian countries and has served as a reliable platform of the government to shaping a strong and productive citizenry.
Leading the efforts to bring power to unlit areas in the country is the National Electrification Administration (NEA), assisted by its partner Electric Cooperatives (ECs).
In a press conference held earlier this month in Davao City, NEA Chief Edgardo Masongsong said 23,464 sitios or about 1.6 million households in the Philippines have yet to be energized, majority of which are found in Mindanao.
He also mentioned that 34 percent of the 11.8 million households served by the ECs are referred to as “lifeline consumers,” or those who only use a maximum of 50 kilowatts per hour a day, enough to power just a couple light bulbs.
These and other perennial concerns of electricity consumers nationwide are what the NEA will be addressing today through a thorough exchange of ideas in its annual NEA-EC Consultative Conference at the Big 8 Corporate Hotel in Tagum City, Davao del Norte.
Expected to attend are over 1,200 delegates from the 121 ECs with whom the Agency hopes to work in greater partnership to institute measures that will safeguard the welfare of the electricity consumers and ensure sustainable development in the rural areas.
One of the primary goals of the consultative conference is to apprise the ECs and other energy industry stakeholders of the latest vision, policy thrusts and strategic initiatives of the NEA anchored on the pro-poor agenda of President Rodrigo R. Duterte.
Masongsong is aware of the daunting task ahead of him when he was tapped to lead the Agency back in November 2016, but he is not shying away from it, knowing what total energization of the countryside can do to improve the lives of rural Filipinos.
“The President said everyone should have access to electricity. We have to energize all sitios. We have to bring electricity to each and every household totaling 1.6 million, so there lies the challenge,” he said.
To carry out this mandate, Masongsong has been using his expertise as a corporate manager and experience as a former party-list representative to initiate reforms that will help ease the plight of electricity consumers.
What he offers is a new approach, one that deeply involves the active participation of the MCOs themselves. “The objective is to make each consumer in the electric cooperative sector understand the workings of the ECs particularly in the rate making aspect and the issue of CapEx,” he said.
The NEA seeks to redefine the roles of power cooperatives and their customers by identifying key issues and other concerns deemed inimical to the effective implementation of the Rural Electrification Program.
At the same time, the Agency hopes to further strengthen its partnership with the ECs and their respective MCOs through a shared identity using a new signage, which will also be unveiled today.
Masongsong, meanwhile, is cognizant of the fact that achieving total electrification on an area coverage basis by 2020, which was the vision statement of the NEA during the previous administration, will not be enough.
Therefore, under his watch, the Agency will strive to be a “dynamic and responsive” organization that acts as a “vanguard of sustainable rural development in partnership with globally-competitive electric cooperatives and empowered electricity consumers,” he said.
With the theme “Forging Change towards Nation Building,” the summit will showcase the National Center of Electric Cooperative Consumers, Inc. (NCECCO) as a platform through which end users can direct all their energy-related concerns.
Established only last January and formally launched to the public this week, NCECCO aims to unite more than 11 million MCOs nationwide towards lobbying for cheaper electricity rates from the power generation companies, the grid, down to the distribution utility firms.
Masongsong, who at one point represented the 1st Consumers Alliance for Rural Energy (1-CARE) party during the 16th Congress, understands the value of sound legislative measures to effect lasting changes in the energy industry.
“We have to generate support from electricity consumers to encourage our congressmen and senators to pass laws that protect their rights and promote the best interest of the electric cooperatives. Without it, all our efforts will be rendered futile,” he said.
“I would like to emphasize that I, as the new administrator of NEA, am very bullish about the NCECCO because it will be an important component in realizing the vision of the Agency towards sustainable rural development,” Masongsong added.
Looking far ahead, the Agency will also take the opportunity to prepare the ECs and the MCOs this early on how the energy industry will operate should the plans to transform government from presidential into a federal one push through.
Masongsong over the last several months has already been making a pitch for the federalist agenda of the Duterte administration among various ECs in the provinces, citing its potential benefits to the small disadvantaged players in the industry.
Finally, the NEA will be paying tribute to top-performing ECs, general managers, board presidents and partner institutions for their valuable contributions to the advancement of the Rural Electrification Program.
This will unfold during the 2017 Lumens Awards tomorrow, which will be granted for the last time this year, as the NEA under the current administration intends to launch a new chapter for this annual EC recognition event beginning this 2018. ###