Benguet power utility suing bank to access employees’ funds
BAGUIO CITY — The two labor unions of the Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) will sue a government bank to regain access to the power utility’s employees’ retirement fund.
Jason Wayet, president of the supervisors’ union of Beneco, said it would take four signatories, including him and Beneco Employees Labor Union president Jefferd Monang, to access an about P100-million fund set aside for retirement benefits and other employee expenditures.
But the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) had frozen the account, leaving at least two retired employees unable to cash their retirement checks.
Wayet said they had hoped to address the impasse without going to court, but on March 1, the DBP informed them that it had recognized two National Electrification Authority (NEA)-appointed signatories to their account, replacing Beneco manager Melchor Licoben and Beneco board president Esteban Somngi.
In the letter, the bank explained that this was a decision made by DBP’s legal department and was not intended to undermine Beneco employees who have been opposing the installation of a NEA-appointed manager.
Beneco is at the center of a leadership dispute with its regulator after the NEA board of administrators appointed lawyer Ana Maria Paz Rafael, a former assistant secretary of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, as manager despite questions about her eligibility.
Beneco and its members have filed numerous lawsuits to nullify NEA’s designation of Rafael.
On Thursday, a group of Beneco member-consumers staged a picket outside Benguet State University in Benguet’s capital town of La Trinidad where Rafael’s closed-door oath-taking program as Beneco’s manager was allegedly being held.
The public squabble was highlighted last year by the forcible takeover of the utility’s headquarters in this city on Oct. 18, which was widely condemned by Beneco’s employees, consumer-members and local officials.
As the squabble escalated, seven banks, including DBP and two other government-owned facilities, froze Beneco’s access to its funds after being notified by the NEA about Rafael’s appointment and the suspension of the Beneco officials who defied them, according to documents.
In February, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong appealed to NEA, Beneco, and the banks to resolve their differences in a dialogue lest the dispute disrupts the utility’s service, especially during the elections in May. But neither the banks nor the NEA has responded to his suggestion. —WITH A REPORT FROM KIMBERLIE QUITASOL
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