THREE men, including one claiming to be an employee of the Visayan Electric Company, were arrested by operatives of the National Bureau of Investigation Central Visayas (NBI 7) after they were caught demanding money from persons living in Talisay City, Cebu in exchange for their power supply to be restored.
Operatives of the NBI 7 led by investigation officer Wenceslao Galendez arrested Maximo Baguio Mariot Jr., who identified himself as an employee of Visayan Electric, and linemen Bryan Sacmar and Doroteo Auxtero Jr. from a contractor of the power distributor. The three were arrested following an entrapment operation conducted by the NBI 7 in Sitio Nangka, Barangay Mohon, Talisay City on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022.
The three were arrested following complaints received by Visayan Electric from its customers that some linemen were asking for money in exchange for having their power restored.
Typhoon Odette (Rai) knocked down power lines in Cebu, causing a province-wide blackout last Dec. 16, affecting millions of Cebuanos, including Visayan Electric’s 474,182 customers in Metro Cebu.
In his affidavit, Galendez said he and his fellow agents followed Mariot’s illegal operations after they received information from Visayan Electric on his modus operandi.
They also found out from Visayan Electric that Mariot was previously connected as an accredited electrician for the power distributor but that his accreditation with the power distributor had expired in 2015. Mariot was not a Visayan Electric employee.
In two separate surveillance operations, Galendez and his team established that Mariot was illegally asking for money from customers of Visayan Electric in exchange for the fast restoration of power to their houses.
Aside from Talisay City, Mariot reportedly conducted his illegal operations even as far as Consolacion town in northern Cebu.
Galendez said to entrap Mariot and his cohorts, he and another agent met with the suspect in a mall in Cebu City on Jan. 23 to arrange for the restoration of the power in their homes in Talisay City.
Galendez and his fellow operative posed as house owners of a community whose electricity had yet to be restored.
During their conversation, Mariot reportedly demanded from Galendez and his fellow operative P10,000 for the immediate restoration of the power in their houses and those of their neighbors.
On Jan. 24, Galendez and his team secured the go signal from NBI 7 Director Rennan Oliva to conduct the entrapment.
On that day, Galendez met with Mariot in Banawa, Guadalupe, Cebu City with the intention of accompanying him to Talisay to begin work on the power restoration.
But when they met, Mariot demanded P1,400 from Galendez, which the suspect said he would pay to a dispatcher working for Visayan Electric who would reportedly prepare the job order request needed to reconnect the power supply of the first house in Talisay. Galendez paid him the P1,400.
The suspect also rescheduled the reconnection to 8 a.m. of the next day as he was not yet done with his work in Banawa.
On Jan. 25, one of Galendez’s colleagues fetched Mariot at the Cebu South Bus Terminal and brought him to Talisay City so he could work on the reconnection.
While checking the wiring in the area, however, Mariot told Galendez’s colleague that he would need an additional P5,000 from them. He claimed that the damage in their electric connection was “too extensive.”
One of the agents posing as a resident in the area agreed to provide the additional P5,000 to Mariot on top of the P10,000 they had promised him earlier as payment.
Mariot then pulled out his phone and called someone. Linemen Sacmar and Auxtero then arrived in the area aboard a Visayan Electric-marked vehicle and met with Mariot to conduct the repairs.
Incidentally, another resident approached Mariot while they were repairing the power connection and asked if he and his team could also assess the power supply in their compound in the same barangay.
The agents overheard Mariot telling the woman to pay him P4,500 to have her power supply restored. The woman paid Mariot the money to restore their power, which they did.
While observing Mariot and the two linemen get to their work, Galendez and his team received word from Visayan Electric that a work job order was dispatched to Sacmar and Auxtero to work in the area but that this did not pass through nor was it approved by their emergency dispatch supervisor. Thus, their work was considered illegal.
After Mariot, Sacmar and Auxtero finished their work, one of the NBI agents approached the three and paid them the promised P15,000 in total, P10,000 of which was marked money. This was the signal for Galendez and his agents to swoop in and arrest the three.
On Thursday, Jan. 27, NBI 7 personnel brought the three suspects to the Talisay City Prosecutor’s Office. They were charged with violating Republic Act 7832 or the Anti-Electricity and Electric Transmission Lines/Materials Pilferage Act and Article 318 of the Revised Penal Code.
Talisay City Prosecutor Maria Alice Lim-Ingles, who handled the inquest proceeding, told SunStar Cebu that the three respondents had wanted to avail of their right to preliminary investigation but that they changed their minds later as they wanted to answer the allegations against them in court.
As a result, the complaints will be filed in court for trial.
In a press conference Thursday at the NBI 7 office in Cebu City, Oliva said the investigation is still ongoing to flush out other persons involved and those who remain at large.
Oliva said they confiscated at least three identification cards from Mariot, which he had used in negotiating with the consumers for the immediate restoration of their power supply. During the arrest, they also retrieved from Mariot numerous billing statements of consumers, of which he was not in charge when he worked as accredited electrician back then.
Visayan Electric president and chief operating officer Raul Lucero said they received reports of alleged extortion days after they started their power restoration efforts.
Lucero said they immediately conducted their own investigation on where the incidents could possibly be taking place. They started by gathering all their contractors and analyzing everything, but Lucero said they sought the help of the bureau on Jan. 11 since they could only do so much.
“What we are seeing now is only one modus. There may be others being used in other places. It’s possible that not only one person is doing this and there are more,” he said.
Lucero said the company does not tolerate such activities.
He said their services are free and consumers do not need to pay for energization.
“But maybe others became so desperate that they were willing to pay any price just to get electricity. We understand that it has taken some time, but then again due to the extent of the problem, we just could not solve it one time,” he said.
Lucero further said there were also reports that other consumers had been victimized by being made to pay in advance, yet their electricity was not restored.
Lucero urged consumers not to encourage such illegal activities.
Oliva said their investigation also includes those who proliferate fake news that Visayan Electric is tolerating the extortion incidents, as this causes chaos.
Lucero said the management and their personnel, particularly those who worked in earnest, had been affected by the reports that their organic personnel extorted money from their own consumers.
“That’s why we are taking this seriously, because it can damage the morale of our people who have been working almost 12 to 16 hours daily just to reenergize, only to hear such comments,” he said.
Lucero said they still have to determine if the contractor of the two arrested linemen had anything to do with their illegal activities before they decide whether to terminate their contract with that contractor.
The three accused, temporarily detained at the NBI 7 detention facility, refused to comment on the matter.
As of Jan. 26, Visayan Electric had energized 413,841 or 87.27 percent of the 474,182 customers in its franchise area, which covers the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, Talisay, Naga and the towns of Liloan, Consolacion, Minglanilla and San Fernando.
Lucero said they had not counted the illegitimate power restoration in their count.
He also said they would not promise when they could fully reenergize their franchise area but stressed that they would do it as soon as possible.