Lessons from Rolly and Task Force Kapatid

From the 80 percent originally targeted by the Department of Energy for the restoration of electricity in the province of Catanduanes, the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative, Inc. (FICELCO) has now lowered that target to a third of the total 55,568 active households in the grid.

As of 7 P.M. of Dec. 12, 2020, the cooperative’s linemen and the 294 personnel of the 42 electric cooperatives that sent teams under the banner of the Power Restoration Rapid Deployment (PRRD)-Task Force Kapatid organized by DOE, the National Electrification Administration (NEA) and the Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (PhilRECA), as well as the 41-man team from Meralco that left on Dec. 3, have restored electricity to 24,851 households or 61.31% of the total.

With 15,124 totally damaged homes that cannot be re-energized, the cooperative still has 15,683 households to finish hopefully by January or February next year.

The FICELCO report indicates restoration levels by town: Bagamanoc, 89.64%; Baras, 29.48%; Bato, 57.40%; Caramoran, 67.30%; Gigmoto, 0%; Pandan, 98.20%; Panganiban, 74.90%; San Andres, 22.25%; San Miguel, 20.51%; Viga, 73.08%; and, Virac, 67.02%.

The scaling down of the targeted accomplishment by Christmas eve to 66.96% is understandable as all work after this week will be done by FICELCO crews alone.

The PRRD Task Force Kapatid teams has begun demobilizing beginning Dec. 15, in preparation for their staggered departure via ferry until Dec. 19.

Last Monday afternoon, all 294 personnel were given a memorable send-off ceremony at Twin Rock beach resort by the provincial government and the cooperative in recognition of their volunteerism, hard work and commitment to the task force’s goal to restore power to most member-consumer-owners of FICELCO nearly two months after super typhoon Rolly downed thousands of power poles.
Most of them, particularly those from regions outside Bicol, will not be back.

According to General Manager Raul Zafe, the Bicol Electric Cooperatives Association (BECA) has agreed to send one team each from mainland cooperatives to continue the restoration work after the New Year, most likely by Jan. 6, 2021.

Hopefully, the teams will come with boom trucks and other vehicles so that Catandunganons who have yet enjoy the benefits of electricity since Nov. 1, 2020 will be able to do so before first month of the coming year is over.

The calamity left the people of Catanduanes some hard lessons as far as the operation of the local electric cooperative is concerned.

First, FICELCO management and its personnel have strived to provide affordable, reliable and improved quality service to its member-consumer-owners. This it has sufficiently proven despite the unavoidable but certainly adverse intervention of politics and profit-hungry business interests.

Second, as far as preparing for an incoming typhoon is concerned, the local cooperative has always done what it could do to safeguard its assets and protect the homes of its consumers. It shut off power hours ahead of the landfall, in contrast with those in flood-hit areas of Luzon which failed to do so when Ulysses brought heavy rains.

Third, the speedy action of Malacanang, through the PRRD-Task Force Kapatid of PhilRECA, NEA and DOE, in sending the restoration teams from other regions underscored a simple truth: for an undeveloped and isolated province like Catanduanes, sticking with FICELCO as the lone distribution utility is the only option.

Given the heavy devastation wrought by Rolly on power facilities here, there is absolutely no way a privatized cooperative, with its profit-only motive, could have convinced PhilRECA to send a similar task force like the gesture they made for a stricken brother.

While member-consumer-owners have the right to criticize management and utter curses whenever a brownout occurs, they should likewise do their duty by electing responsible and qualified directors into office and following co-op rules and regulations.

Only by this synergy will FICELCO and its 56,000 members survive the challenges of the future, from misguided proposals for privatization and the urgent need to make the distribution system resilient to super typhoons.

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