Senate to probe NEA-Beneco row | Inquirer News

Senate to probe NEA-Beneco row

/ 05:06 AM October 29, 2021

PROTEST Employees and member-consumers of Benguet Electric Cooperative join an Oct. 20 protest action against the National Electrification Administration, which led a takeover of the utility’s main offices in Baguio City on Oct. 18. —NEIL CLARK ONGCHANGCO/CONTRIBUTOR

The Senate is stepping into the management controversy surrounding Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) as energy committee chair Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian called for an inquiry into the matter.

Gatchalian, in a statement, said the National Electrification Administration (NEA), which supervises the country’s 121 electric cooperatives, must ensure the continuing and uninterrupted supply of electricity in Baguio City and all 13 towns in Benguet province.

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The lawmaker said he intended to file a Senate resolution on the matter even as NEA Administrator Emmanuel Juaneza, in a recent budget hearing at the Senate, made assurances that “there’s no more trouble” regarding Beneco.

“Our concern is stability in that area [considering that] Baguio is a highly urbanized city and we don’t want them to experience brownouts because of this commotion,” Gatchalian said.

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Appointment

An operation led by NEA-appointed Beneco project supervisor Omar Mayo, supported by heavily armed policemen, was conducted in the wee hours of Oct. 18 to seize the Beneco main offices in Baguio City’s South Drive and implement the NEA’s directive.

In particular, the NEA appointed Ana Maria Paz Rafael-Banaag, a lawyer and former assistant secretary of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, as general manager.

The Beneco board of directors named as general manager Melchor Licoben, who has been serving as officer in charge since the former general manager, the late Gerardo Verzosa, retired last year.

According to Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association, the Beneco board and general assembly rejected Banaag as she was deemed not qualified for the post based on qualifications set by the NEA itself.

Gatchalian noted that Juaneza, at the Senate budget hearing, stood his ground on Banaag’s appointment but said the NEA would no longer disrupt Beneco’s operations.

Gatchalian added that an internal analysis of Beneco’s “current mess” showed that it was the NEA that did not follow its own memorandum insofar as succession mechanism and selection process is concerned when it appointed the new general manager.

“We don’t want NEA, the supervisor of all [electric cooperatives], to be imposing people over a well-run, functioning co-op and that is not the intention of the law,” the senator said.

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“My plea to NEA is to review your own rules,” he said. “Make sure that you follow your own rule and make sure that Beneco is running smoothly because we owe it to the people of Baguio.”

Public apology sought

Early this week, Kalinga Rep. Allen Jesse Mangaoang demanded an apology from Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi for “tarnishing the image” of Verzosa, Beneco’s former general manager, amid the leadership dispute in the utility.

Mangaoang called out Cusi for announcing during a television interview on Oct. 19 that Verzosa committed suicide, which the lawmaker found to be “insensitive, malicious, baseless, unfair and unethical.”

Verzosa, Mangaoang’s brother-in-law, died on Sept. 16, 2020, more than four months after he retired and was succeeded by Licoben.

Saying the family is considering legal action against Cusi, Mangaoang said the secretary’s account implied that Verzosa took his life “due to Beneco being troubled, or is related to the prevailing issue confronting Beneco now which the NEA board actually created.” —WITH A REPORT FROM VINCENT CABREZA

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