Another priest, laity join hunger strike in Albay

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Fr. Oliver Castro celebrates evening Mass at the Redemptorist Church in Legazpi City, Albay even without power after APEC disconnected service in the parish church. (Contributed photo)

MANILA, Sept. 28, 2015— Another Catholic priest and some lay people went on hunger strike in solidarity with a clergyman who started nine days ago.

A source said a more people would be joining the strike should the government pursue the privatization of an electric cooperative in Albay province.

Among the new hunger strikers are nine lay people and Fr. Jing Alea, a Redemptorist missionary in the region.

Fr. Oliver Castor has camped outside the Albay Power and Energy Corp. (Apec) since Sept. 19 demanding the closure of the private company.

Castor, who heads the Redemptorist Mission Center in Legazpi City, has long been vocal against any attempts to privatize the Albay Electric Cooperative (Aleco).

On Sunday evening, the priest celebrated Mass at the Redemptorist Church even without power.

Several candles were lit inside the church as hundreds of parishioners attended the Mass.

APEC, a subsidiary of the San Miguel Corp., disconnected the parish church’s service after it refused to pay bills.

“Why are we going to pay to APEC when we recognize Aleco as still our legitimate power supplier?” Castro said.

Castro and his supporters also launched an online petition to protest the privatization of public utilities such as electricity.

The online campaign posted at change.org stated that Aleco, owned by its more than 200,000 member-electric consumers can work best rather than be operated by APEC.

Petitioners also called on the government to terminate the private sector participation scheme of APEC “on the grounds of illegal takeover and operation and its failure to resolve the crisis as agreed.”

The National Electrification Administration (NEA) took over Aleco management and pushed for its privatization in 2011.

A year later, the government allowed APEC to take control of Aleco.

The privatization was intended to bail out Aleco from its financial troubles amounting to around Php 4 billion over years of supposed mismanagement.

After more than a year of APEC operations, however, the petition said its collection efficient is at an “all-time low” of 50 percent from Aleco’s previous 77 percent.

Petitioners added that system loss is also at an all-time high of 40% from 24%, and the outstanding debts are not being paid and is ballooning to around Php 6 billion pesos.

Castro earlier said numerous billing problems persist with APEC issuing unofficial receipts to consumers.

“Now, after more than one and a half years of APEC operations, it is clear that PSP (private-sector participation) has failed,” part of the petition reads. (R. Lagarde / CBCPNews)

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