Lockdown cost Baguio, Benguet power utility P126M loss, adding to Cordillera recovery woes
BAGUIO CITY –– The shuttering of businesses in Baguio City and Benguet province has cost power utility Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) as much as P126 million in foregone revenues since March when Luzon was locked down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
“We deferred some projects and concentrated on maintenance work,” to manage the crisis, said Beneco general manager Melchor Licoben during a briefing on Thursday, Aug. 6.
The loss represents a 19-percent drop in electricity sales, he said, because of the prolonged quarantine’s impact on industries in Benguet, and the summer capital.
The loss has not crippled the power utility, which is now valued at roughly P4 billion since it was organized in 1973, the utility’s leaders said.
Beneco serves 203,000 customers composed of households and businesses in Baguio, and 13 Benguet towns, including municipalities that grow the salad vegetables, sold each day to Manila and other Luzon markets.
But Beneco’s loss adds to the recovery woes of the Cordillera Administrative Region, which is composed of Baguio, Benguet, and the provinces of Kalinga, Ifugao, Apayao, Abra, and Mountain Province.
The highland region lost P18 billion during the lockdown, which is the equivalent of 4 percent of its targeted gross regional domestic product (GRDP) for 2020, said Milagros Rimando, director of the National Economic Development Authority, during the July 29 presentation of the State of the Region.
“We don’t expect positive growth in 2020,” she said, which the Cordillera Regional Development Council (RDC) characterized as a recovery year so the upland economy could bounce back by 2021 or 2022.
Rimando said the region needs to win back the economic gains it achieved in 2019, as well as in 2018 when the GRDP grew by 7.3 percent (or value of P164.89 billion).
Last year, investments at the Baguio City Economic Zone grew by P40 million, she reported.
The Securities and Exchange Commission registered Cordillera investment growth from P195 million in 2018 to about P310 million last year, while the Department of Trade and Industry recorded a rise in investments from P1.2 billion in 2018 to P1.4 billion in 2019.
Government funds have since been directed towards Cordillera micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME), which were the first to adjust and serve “the new demands of a quarantined society.”
The MSME sector lost P1.075 billion in foregone income during the lockdown, but have benefited from interest-free stimulus loans worth P23.16 million as of July 27, said Myrna Pablo, DTI Cordillera director, last week.
The 62, 907 poorest Cordillera households continued to receive their conditional cash transfer (CCT) stipends during the community quarantine.
Because the 24-hour curfew left all schools closed and prevented social workers from checking if beneficiaries complied with other conditions of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, the stipends during the pandemic have been released as grants, said Leo Quintilla, Cordillera director of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
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