Senate body probes brewing BENECO leadership crisis

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BAGUIO CITY – The Senate will be conducting an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the electric power service in Baguio City and Benguet in the light of the recent issues between the Benguet Electric Cooperative (BENECO) and the National Electrification Administration (NEA) that caused the brewing leadership impasses in one of the country’s top performing electric cooperatives.

Under Senate Resolution No. 945 authored by Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, it underscored that it is important to ensure the continuous and reliable power service within the franchise area of BENECO given the ongoing disagreements between the NEA and BENECO as to the appointment of the general manager and to make certain that the appointment of the same is done pursuant to the current rules and regulations.

Senator Gatchalian pointed out that despite the resumption of normal operations in BENECO after member-consumer-owners showed their own version of ‘people power’ last October 20, 2021, there is still no final resolution of the prevailing issues between BENECO on NEA on the appointment of the general manager as both parties insist on their authority to appoint the same.

“To make matters worse, BENECO currently encounters difficulties in processing bank transactions as some accredited banks do not acknowledge the signature of Engr. Melchor S. Licoben as the general manager,” Gatchalian stressed.

The resolution noted that as of November 18, 2020, BENECO’s overall performance assessment score is 98 percent with the rating of AAA where it is the highest performance rating that an electric cooperative can attain which means that based on key performance standards such as financial, institutional, technical, and reportorial requirements, it obtained a total score of 95-100.

Further, as of the third quarter of 2020, BENECO is classified as a Yellow-1 cooperative, not having complied with only one key performance standards and parameter such as collection efficiency which indicates that BENECO has a positive net worth and a system loss within the cap of 12 percent and has a system average interruption frequency index of 6.42 interruptions per customer per year which is compliant with the 25 standard while its system average interruption duration index is at 745.7 minutes per customer per year which is complaint with the 2,700 standard.

In the wee hours of October 18, 2021, the NEA and the Philippine National Police (PNP) with the aid of around 50 heavily armed men went to the premises of the BENECO main headquarters to allow lawyer Ana Marie Rafael to assume the position of general manager.

Gatchalian underscored that the aforesaid incident caused alarm among the BENECO employees who were fearful for their lives and safety leading to the closure of the BENECO main headquarters along South Drive and leaving consumer concerns unattended.

According to the Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (PHILRECA) of which BENECO is a member, employees and member-consumer-owners (MCOs) held a parade rally along the streets of the city on October 20, 2021 where they went straight to the main headquarters. Ironically, a phalanx of uniformed and shield ready policemen blocked their way but the employees and consumers were able to break the police line and went directly to the BENECO headquarters and reclaimed the building from the NEA authorities.

The senator claimed that despite the resumption of operation of all BENECO officers, employees are fearful that another forced entry will happen again anytime which should not be the case.

He added that the incident transpired due to the disagreement between the NEA and the BENECO Board of Directors on who should be appointed as general manager.

On April 21, 2020, the BENECO Board of Directors appointed Engr. Melchor S. Licoben as the general manager effective May 1, 2020 after the retirement of the late general manager Gerardo P. Verzosa pursuant to Option No. 2 in the selection of general manager enshrined under the pertinent provisions of NEA Memorandum No. 2017-035.

Ironically, the NEA Board of Administrators entertained an endorsement from the Office of the President that transmitted the letter dated June 30, 2020 of former Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Assistant Secretary Rafael requesting an endorsement from the said office for her application as BENECO general manager even if there was already an appointed person to the said position several months earlier. By Dexter A. See