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BENECO LEADERSHIP DISPUTE

House inquiry sought on power co-op row

/ 05:02 AM January 21, 2022

CONFLICT Benguet Electric Cooperative has been dealing with a leadership and management conflict for five months now. —VINCENT CABREZA

BAGUIO CITY—The Bayan Muna party-list group is seeking a congressional inquiry into the appointment of a former Malacañang official as manager of Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco), which has been locked in a leadership dispute with its government regulator since last year.

House Bill No. 2457, filed on Jan. 19, sought to determine why the National Electrification Administration (NEA) proceeded to designate lawyer Ana Maria Paz Rafael as head of Beneco when the utility already had a general manager.

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The NEA board of administrators endorsed Rafael, a former assistant secretary at the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), as its sole nominee for Beneco general manager in April 2021 despite questions about her eligibility.

The bill, filed by Bayan Muna Representatives Carlos Isagani Zarate, Ferdinand Gaite and Eufemia Cullamat, described Rafael’s appointment as “anomalous” because the NEA allegedly deprived the Beneco board and its member-consumers “the power to choose the general manager of their choice.”

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Bayan Muna cited the Philippine Cooperative Code of 2008 (Republic Act No. 6983), which requires all government agencies to make sure all cooperatives “develop into viable and responsive economic enterprises …” that are “free from any conditions that might infringe upon the autonomy or organizational integrity of cooperatives.”

Takeover, suspension

Rafael’s eventual appointment in August last year triggered a standoff between the NEA board and Beneco officials who rejected her.

Rafael said she had applied to become Beneco manager in “good faith,” and had since resigned from her PCOO post.The feud came to a head when the NEA forcibly took over the Beneco offices on Oct. 18 last year using deputized police officers. Beneco employees and member-consumers recovered the utility’s main building three days later.

In a Dec. 29, 2021, affidavit filed with the Internal Affairs Service of the Cordillera police, Beneco Supervisors Association asked the independent body to penalize the policemen who took part in the takeover that was overseen by Omar Mayo, the Beneco caretaker appointed by the NEA.

Mayo was then tasked to enforce a NEA-imposed suspension order against seven Beneco directors and general manager Melchor Licoben, who refused to recognize Rafael’s authority.

The NEA board recently slapped all 11 Beneco directors with a second suspension order, this time involving “excessive benefits and allowances they [have] extended to themselves” from 2014 to 2017. —VINCENT CABREZA

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TAGS: Bayan Muna, Beneco, Electricity, leadership dispute, NEA, power
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