STATE-LED Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM) has uncovered up to P238.3 million in universal charge (UC) collected from electricity users by electricity cooperatives but not remitted to the agency, which is the fund’s administrator.

In a statement on Sunday, the Department of Finance (DoF), whose top official chairs PSALM, said final demand letters had been sent to 11 electricity cooperatives “with a stern warning that aside from being liable for interest charges, these cooperatives and their officers will face civil, administrative and criminal charges.”

“Non-remittance of UC collections to PSALM is fraud perpetrated against the consumers who paid for the UC and against the government that is mandated to use the UC in accordance with EPIRA (Republic Act No. 9136 or Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001),” PSALM President and Chief Executive Officer Irene Joy B. Garcia said in the statement.

The head of the National Electrification Administration, which oversees the country’s 121 electric cooperatives, as well as the lawyer of the Philippine Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, the biggest industry group, did not immediately respond when asked to comment on the DoF statement.

Ms. Garcia said PSALM “will continue to relentlessly pursue all efforts to collect what is legally due to it.”

“It will not allow delinquent co-ops to get away with illegal use and misappropriation of the UC collections.”

In the demand letters, PSALM told delinquent cooperatives that each month of non-remittance of UC to PSALM is one count of violation of the EPIRA, punishable by fines and penalties of up to P50 million.

The universal charge is collected monthly by distribution utilities, including cooperatives, from power users to recover so-called stranded debts and stranded contract costs incurred by the National Power Corp. when the country built up its energy assets to meet deficient supply.

Collected funds are supposed to be remitted to PSALM, as administrator, by the 15th of each succeeding month.

PSALM’s demand letter reminded directors and officers who allowed the violation by the cooperatives that they may be liable for imprisonment of up to two years and/or fine of double the amount of damages.

It said refusal to comply with EPIRA requirements may further expose officers to a fine of up to P5 million and/or imprisonment of up to six years.

It also said non-remittance of UC collections is tantamount to estafa by misappropriation under the Revised Penal Code, and thus punishable by imprisonment of up to 20 years.

Ms. Garcia said that, after sending out the demand letters, PSALM will take legal steps against the erring power distributors and their officers and directors without any further notice to them.

In its statement, the DoF identified Camarines Sur III Electric Cooperative, Inc. as topping the list of 11 delinquent co-ops with the biggest unremitted UC collections amounting to P66.281 million.

Another utility in Bicol followed — Albay Electric Cooperative, Inc., with unremitted UC collections totaling P40.6 million.

Abra Electric Cooperative, Inc. came next with P36.886 million.

PSALM also called out co-ops that not only failed to remit, but also refused to submit the required monthly collection reports. The agency said non-submission is a violation of the UC guidelines issued by the Energy Regulatory Commission.

These are Maguindanao Electric Cooperative, Inc., with unremitted UC collections of at least P26.28 million based only on available reports, Ticao Electric Cooperative with at least P9.421 million, Lanao del Sur Electric Cooperative, Inc. with at least P8.685 million, and Siasi Electric Cooperative with at least P2.764 million.

The other co-ops that were sent demand letters were Basilan Electric Cooperative, Inc. with P31.531 million; Cotabato Electric Cooperative, Inc.-PPALMA with P7.428 million, Masbate Electric Cooperative, Inc. with P4.917 million and Romblon Electric Cooperative, Inc. with P3.456 million. — Victor V. Saulon