Court stops Beneco takeover

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BAGUIO CITY – A local court stopped the members of the Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) Board of Directors from favorably acting on the controversial National Electrification Administration Board of Administrators (NEA-BOA) Resolution No. 2021-047 that endorsed the applicant that garnered the highest score in the final interview to the position of general manager until further orders.

In a 72-hour temporary restraining order issued by Executive Judge Maria Ligaya Itliong-Rivera of the city’s Regional Trail Court (RTC), it stated ‘upon consideration of the allegations contained in the present motion together with the allegations in the verified complaint in support of the prayer for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and it appearing that before the matter could be heard on notice, the plaintiff would suffer grave and irreparable injury, the country hereby ordered defendants Beneco BOD, their employees, agents and other persons acting in their behalf, to cease and desist, for a period of 72 hours only from date hereof, from favorably acting on the NEA-BOA RB Resolution No. 2021-47.’

Earlier, Beneco member-consumer-owners Benjamin M. Lorena, Gloria B. Delmas, Lorenzo G. Liwan, Jr., Lina B. Agaldang and Sylvia Aquino filed before the RTC a petition for certiorari and prohibition with prayer for the issuance of a temporary restraining injunction, writ of preliminary injunction and injunction against the Beneco board and NEA BOA on the appointment of the general manager of the electric cooperative.

The petitioners claimed that on May 10, 2021, the Beneco board received a letter from NEA Administrator Edgardo R. Masonsong dated May 6, 2021, practically ordering the board that its action on the endorsement of Atty. Ana Marie Paz Rafael must be manifested through a board resolution which shall be submitted to NEA for confirmation on or before May 14, 2021.

If the Beneco board approves on the application of Atty. Rafael on or before May 14, 2021 as ordered by the NEA Administrator, the petitioners alleged that one of the well-established electric cooperatives will be managed by an unqualified person to the irreversible damage of the consumers.

According to them, if not prohibited from acting on the NEA-BOA endorsement, the Beneco board will be acting with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction for acting on an endorsement which did not comply with the substantial and procedural requirements of Republic Act (RA) 1-531 and NEA Memorandum 2017-035.

The petitioners claimed that Beneco has grown over the years into one of the most successful electric cooperatives in the country, it charges one of the lowest electric bills among electric cooperatives which is largely due to the efficient and brilliant management employed by the managers of which Engr. Melchor S. Licoben, the displaced applicant, was a part of the said team.

However, they asserted that the management of Beneco is in danger of falling in the hands of an unqualified, inexperienced and alleged ignorant person if the board obeys the order of NEA Administrator Masongsong.

“It is safe to assume and predict the impending decline of Beneco as a dependable utility provider if an unqualified person is appointed to manage it. It will certainly befall the same faith that other electric cooperatives have suffered after they became melting cows of politicians. The catastrophic consequence upon the lives of the consumers cannot be over emphasized. Consumer business establishments in Baguio and Benguet will suffer the impact of higher power bills as direct consequence of poor management,” the petition stated.

They argued that there is no appeal, nor any plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law which is available to them except the issuance of a temporary restraining order, writ of preliminary injunction and eventually a writ of certiorari or prohibition to prevent and restrain the board from acting on the endorsement made by the NEA-BOA for the former to appoint Atty. Rafael as general manager.

The petitioners explained that the principle of exhaustion of administrative remedies does not apply in the aforesaid case because the NEA-BOA was not performing a quasi-judicial function but is performing a supervisory function when it endorsed only one candidate for Beneco general manager who got the higher score in the final interview.

In view of the letter of the NEA Administrator ordering the Beneco board to act on its endorsement for the appointment of Atty. Rafael on or before May 14, 2021, the petitioners alleged that resorting to administrative remedies is impossible, futile and will not serve any practical purpose. By HENT

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