Electricity theft: Is More Power serious on dismantling an organized crime?

The age-old issue of widespread electricity theft has been finally opened and hopefully it will aid a much needed awareness among Ilonggos. This is an issue that is so huge and well-rooted in Iloilo City’s underground society.

Theft and illegal connection of electricity is a complex and a multi-faceted issue: socio-political, cultural, moral, and economic. This underground industry is no petty crime. It is an intricately operated shadow livelihood with an established structure similar to narco-politics, if not a layer within the same or within a parallel network.

This is the reason why no one dared to speak up and expose this issue. Not an Ilonggo politician, not a self-professed anti-PECO urban legend-crusaders the DDS-type; not an archbishop at the palace by the plaza; not even powerful media and radio commentators, not former PECO employees, and not even the family who owns PECO. Perhaps the owner of More Power will be different.  

While narco-politics were discussed in whispers, it has a semblance of imagery that makes it at least recognizable. Power (electricity) politics is so deep down and so out of sight making it formless and indistinguishable. This is the kind of character that made it as a thriving multi-million underground industry and an effective instrument of political power and patronage.

It is only today that this underground socio-political and economic issue will start to acquire an image. This is an interesting story no one dared to discuss. The public has started to gain serious interest over this issue after seeing More Power’s report regarding its anti-jumper campaign.

There are technically-competent, evidenced-based and experienced-based experts over this issue. But allow me to share my thoughts which I luckily acquired from long years of eavesdropping among power sector players while vending birthday balloons and colorful confettis. 

First, electricity is a potent instrument of patronage politics. Unregistered consumers are captive consumers, and because of that, they are also a captive vote market at the grassroots.

We are all aware of government’s governance structure down to the grassroots level. When barangay officials declares that they are not aware of any illegal power connection in their community, believe me, they are aliens roaming around the barangays.

Illegally connected power consumers, especially in depressed communities with poor electricity accessibility, acquires their electricity connection through the facilitation of predatory service providers – a deodorized technical word developed by the power sector people to describe syndicates on the ground just so we become more confused.

These consumers are a paying customers who follows “informal agreements” with power wielders at the community. These captive consumers becomes captive voters during election season. If they do not vote for a commanded slate distributed before the election day, that household can suffer total blackout, especially if the candidate/s who were suggested on the list or sample ballot, lost an election.

Electricity is a currency instrument to force a command vote.

Take this for instance, More Power reported that in one barangay in Molo alone, around 191 were apprehended for illegal connection. That is only one barangay. Iloilo City has 180 barangays.

Some 10 to 15 years ago, the former service provider PECO was asked about how many registered consumers do they have; the answer was approximately less than 50,000 consumers then. The number did not drastically increased and which validated our estimates of informal (and illegally) connected consumers to be more than half, if not equal or proportionate, on the total number of registered consumers.

More Power’s initial estimate of illegal connection for the entire city is around 30,000 as reported by one local newspaper. Let’s bring in the same set of question to More Power: How many registered consumers do you have today? That might provide an overall picture as to how much 30,000 represents in the overall consumer market.

Second, the poor and marginalized are being blamed for stealing electricity, but the rich are stealing too and they are untouchable.

As what I mentioned, consumers at the grassroots do not just come up the ladder and connect to the primary or secondary line or on the plaza, street light, barangay hall, school, or covered gym. The connection is facilitated by predators at the community level.

Most, if not all, of these marginalized people at the community pay electricity that is illegally connected by predators using the most ingenious of technology only a “racket scientist” have imagined possible. I’m quite certain that the innovation used on the ground is ‘jaw-dropping’ for first timers like More Power’s campaign fronliner Mr. Ariel Castañeda.

But this highly progressive city is not only characterized by the poor. This is a city with a rich tradition of protecting its opulent elite and they too avail of illegally connected electricity. Not one or two, but long-size bond paper rich list with ancestral houses, business structures, leisure facility, and, even houses of worship and meditation.

I used to dare PECO executives during rub elbow opportunities on court hearings to reveal the list, but I guess PECO owners were shy to embarrass their fellow-elite in society. Why don’t we bring up the same dare to More Power? Why don’t you show us the names on that ‘vaulted list’? There might be an active anti-PECO-pro-More politician, businesspersons and tycoons, or a former labor leader playing activist and expert, media personality, accountant, lawyer, and (I hope God-forgive me), a religious leader.

Some very religious Ilonggos might not have been aware that, in some instances, they might have knelt-down before a religious statue lighted from an illegally connected power.

If one could recall, there was one influential businessperson in Iloilo City who attempted to campaign against PECO (then) and who bankrolled a former PECO labor leader to fight against the company. The “noble cause” went pfffft like a disgusting fart for its was defeated by an illegal connection case filed against the person to the tune of millions of pesos.

We can only hear a former PECO executive who has now retired “dies-dies laughing.”

Lastly, operation jumper is good but the accountable remains free.

More Power has filed cases in court for people who were found to have illegally connected electricity. One newspaper reported that three (3) individuals are facing trial for violation of the Anti-Pilferage law (RA 7832).

This is good news-bad news. But what about the rich and affluent violators? Barangay officials, city officials, and PECO owners? I’m sure the top-notch legal team of More Power led by Atty. Hector Teodosio and Atty. Allana Mae Babayen-on have found violations kept on the pages of other law books designed for the rich-class violators.

I appeal to you, don’t waste your time filing cases on small insignificant fishes who are swimming inside murky aquarium waters controlled by predator-syndicates just to deliver a point. It is a waste of consumers resources, for, essentially, all of these efforts make its way on our monthly electric bill and on your attorney’s fees.

Make it worthwhile for the Ilonggos. Show us that you are a franchise-worthy and a fearless world-class conglomerate. Make your effort count. Impress us with your courage and we will include you in our daily prayer.

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