Pantabangan: Faint the townBy Conrado R. Banal III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
With a population of less than 30,000 but with a yearly income of almost P200 million, this town in Nueva Ecija called Pantabangan, made famous by the 36-year-old hydroelectric and irrigation dam, can only be a prosperous town.
But it is not, and so what is happening in Pantabangan?
Well, for the second time in less than a year, it has no electricity service. First Gen Hydro Power Corp. (FGHPC), which operates the 100-megawatt hydropower plant, cut off the connection to local distributor Pantabangan Municipal Electric Services (Pames) due to some P52 million in unpaid bills. FGHPC cut the power supply to the cooperative for two straight days.
Pames issued a check to the FGHPC for about P1.6 million—versus the bills of more than P50 million—but the cooperative later informed the power company that the check did not have sufficient funding.
From what I gathered, FGHPC returned the check to the cooperative and it went on to cut off the electricity supply.
It is just that, at this time of the year, the power disconnection was bad timing. The schools in the town, for one, would need electricity for the preparation of the graduation rites. Then you have the forthcoming midterm elections in May.
Last year, FGHPC already cut electricity service in Pantabangan because Pames’ unpaid bills had piled up to about P80 million. The two parties then agreed on a debt restructuring. Pames was scheduled to remit to FGHPC P8.7 million for its bills from July to December last year. The cooperative again missed the payment.
From what I gathered, upon the request of the Pantabangan municipal government, FGHPC even granted the cooperative several extensions, which electric companies here in the metropolis, for instance, hardly gives to the consumers.
On top of such a leeway given to the local cooperative, FGHPC had to incur additional costs to provide electricity to the schools. During the two days that the lights in Pantabangan turned faint, from Feb. 11 to 13, the company provided four emergency diesel generators to the schools. School activities continued, while the town folk drew off power from the schools for charging their mobile phones.
FGHPC did the same thing when it cut off electricity supply to the cooperative in July last year.
Now, by any measure, Pantabangan is a rich town, rated as a first-class municipality, precisely because of its income from the three hydroelectric plants located there—the only town in the country blessed with such huge investments from the government.
Yet Pames, run by the municipal government for the longest time, has always been perennially delinquent in paying its power bills, although—according to reports—the townspeople have been dutifully paying for their electricity bills to the same cooperative.
Something is definitely wrong in Pantabangan. A couple of months ago, the government employees’ association in the town held a protest rally at the municipal hall. They complained about the nonpayment of their salaries, clothing allowance, obligatory 13th month and productivity incentives.
On top of it all, they claimed that the municipal government had not been remitting their contributions to the Government Service Insurance System, Philippine Health Insurance Corp. and Home Development Mutual Fund (aka Pag-Ibig).
From what I gathered, on top of the management of Pames is the town mayor himself—Romeo Borja Sr., whose son, Romeo Jr., happens to be the vice mayor and who, in turn, is currently facing charges of rape by an 18-year-old former beauty queen.
It is also rumored that father mayor and son vice mayor would often visit the casinos in the metropolis.
On the other hand, reports quoting Antonio Capia, president of the Pantabangan Municipal Government Employees Association, who is an assistant municipal agriculture officer, said that some 200 employees and several service contract personnel of the municipality had not received their salaries for two months.
In the Commission on Audit report on the finances of the Pantabangan municipal government for 2011, it was alleged that the local government violated several laws involving public funds, such as “unliquidated” cash advances of more than P40 million.
Also, according to the COA, the books of the municipal government overstated its cash and receivables, while the expenses were understated. In short, the municipal government was cooking its books.
All in all, based on the COA report, the town government has outstanding liabilities of almost P400 million.
Bad things are surely happening in this rich town of Pantabangan, which is the only town in the country with three hydroelectric plants. One can only wonder what the DILG is doing about it.
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Reports said that a former senator and her ex-lover were caught in an intra-corporate dispute over a small company called Discover and Probe The Skies Inc.
Based on documents from the Securities and Exchange Commission, the former senator is none other than Sen. Anna Dominique “Nikki” Coseteng and the businessman is a finance man named Armand Raquel-Santos.
Both of them filed GIS, or general information sheet, with the SEC claiming control of the company.
In the past couple of years, the company was known among public schools as “Skyxplore,” holding astrological projection shows as part of science education in the schools.
Reports said that the ex-senator (i.e. Coseteng) was eventually ousted from the business.
Based on SEC documents, her name was not listed among the original incorporators of Skyxplore. The articles of incorporation showed that Raquel-Santos owned almost 90 percent of the company, with four other incorporators owning nominal shares.
It seems that Coseteng and Raquel-Santos had a falling out as business partners.
The group of Raquel-Santos filed the corporate GIS with the SEC last Dec. 17, still showing the original subscription of the shares in the articles of incorporation, meaning, he owned almost 90 percent of the company.
But only a few days later, on Dec. 21, the SEC also accepted—stamped with its official barcode and seal, plus the name of the receiving officer—another GIS for the same company, Skyxplore, although this time the majority owner was listed as Coseteng, while Raquel-Santos was shown to own a minority position of about 28 percent.
Thus, there are two versions of the SEC-documented GIS for the company. Confusion thus arose on which of the two should the banks honor, for instance.
In other words, the mere filing of any GIS with the SEC, which the commission would blindly accept anyway, could be potent tool in any takeover of any business—big or small, illegal or otherwise.
And everybody thought the SEC already computerized its records.