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Steps Forward

Just a little past seven last night, I had just finished microwaving some of my pacham pasta dish when the world – or, at least, my little corner of it – suddenly turned black. Well, sort of... The neighbours sa harap still had their house lights on.

Alarmed, I strode to the side windows to see if the neighbours next door likewise still had theirs on. They did not. That was somehow comforting; albeit, there is something so not right about your house being pitch black and the neighbours’ houses in front glowing as though they were stars in the night sky.

Ah-ah… Nakakasura rin… I am sure the neighbours in front will not agree with me, but personally, my take on things is maigi pang lahat

So I went outside to investigate. The next door neighbour was as alarmed as I was. “May pumutok,” he told me, pointed towards a small box attached to the electrical pole next to his sarî-sarî store.

“Ah,” I replied, “itawag na lang sa Batelec...”

So, I went back to the house to call. “If you know the local number of the person you are calling, please dial that number now,” the recorded voice said pleasantly. Aba ngâ naman, I thought to myself. Improving! May automated call management system na!

This in itself ought to be hardly remarkable; and primarily because recorded voice messages have been around since – like – forever! But those of us who have been with Batelec all these years also know that steps forward tended to be – at least in the past – few and far between...

Take the cooperative’s billing and collection system. While there will be those who will say that they find the unpredictable and fleeting visit of the collector each month as efficient, I have personally always thought of it as a hit-or-miss affair.

That was why I used to wonder when the cooperative would make a bank payment system available to customers so I would not have to go all the way to Antipolo del Norte if I missed the collector. This was by no means being capricious. I mean, in some countries, citizens have been paying their bills using their cell phones if they care to for quite sometime.

In all fairness, Batelec has recently made available a payment method via SM. And about time, too! Bravo! It is not quite the same as payment by ATM or online using a web browser; but it is still one step forward! Robinson’s too, if you please!

To get back to last night’s call, “...please hold the line and wait for an operator to assist you...” I did, and in a few moments, a pleasant female voice answered, “Batelec, magandang gabi pô!”

I appreciated that, honestly! For all the cooperative’s shortcomings, I have always appreciated that the people who answer calls – even during odd hours of the night – have always been polite and cordial. Honest! I have called the cooperative a few times before and never has there been someone masungit at the other end.

So, I went on to describe the situation; and the lady with the cordial voice reassured me that somebody in the neighbourhood had called before I did and would I please just wait for the maintenance crew to arrive. Great! I thanked her and happily ended my call.

Remember, this was just past seven in the evening. An hour later, I was thinking that it was a windy night and perhaps the maintenance crew got held up in a similar situation somewhere.

By nine – and still sitting in the dark – the rains brought on by storm Bebeng were cascading down; so I thought the maintenance crew was probably somewhere waiting for the rains to abate before driving over.

By ten – I was sure the goddamned crew was not coming and went to bed!

In fairness, I thought the conditions – with the wind, rain and all – were too treacherous for a crew to do repairs. I really was not too upset. I just wished the lady with the cordial voice could have said so instead of making me – and my next door neighbours, I was sure – wait futilely in the dark.

What was supposed to be another step forward instead became a step backwards. Perhaps the coop ought to consider making it standard procedure to ask for a caller’s number so that in the event a crew is unable to arrive, the caller can be duly notified.

I mean, what is the point in being polite and cordial if you are not being truthful? Answer me that, please!

Early this morning, a quick sortie next door confirmed that the crew did not arrive as promised. “I waited until nine,” my neighbour said, “before closing the sarî-sarî store.”

Personally, I was worried that half a kilo of pasta – lovingly cooked with fresh red tomatoes, the only way to do it – would spoil. I went home at lunchtime to check if power had been restored. It had; and my pasta had not spoiled.

That, as far as I was concerned, was all that mattered.

By the way, I was pleasantly surprised to find today that Batelec has a web site! Another step forward, I guess. Check it out: http://www.batelec2.com.ph/main.html.

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