The National Electrification Administration (NEA) came out with an alleged ‘Solomonic decision’ to resolve the long-standing leadership conflict in the Benguet Electric Cooperative (BENECO) that caused the removal of all of the members of the Board of Directors, the suspension of some officers and the termination of the appointment of the purported general manager.
NEA Administrator Mariano Almeda said that the dismissal of the Board of Directors and the suspension of some of its officers was because of the alleged adverse findings and observations on the financial and management audit conducted on the electric cooperative covering the period January 2018 to December 31, 2020.
Based on the aforesaid audit, it was found that some of the transactions of the electric cooperative were considered gravely adverse to good governance and sound management.
Further, the audit findings and observations include the availment of the loan from the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) for the investment of P160 million to the Rural Electrification and Financing Corporation (REFC) that incurred unwarranted interest to the electric cooperative; amending of the terms of payment with MN Electro Industrial Supply and Services, Inc. for the supply of materials, labor and handling for the electrification projects of 79 sitios in the franchise area amounting to P87.2 million; procurement of steel poles from Industrial Galvanizers Corporation of the Philippines where the prices were higher than the 2018 NEA price index; the continuous defiance of the Board of Directors on the NEA guidelines in the grant of benefits and allowances; the continuous defiance of the Board of Directors to audit recommendation that the disbursement of corporate social responsibility (CSR) fund should be coursed through the Cooperative’s Institutional Services Department (ISD); the signing privilege of the board of Directors was approved without NEA explicit approval where the members are authorized to sign restaurant bills or expenses incurred in various accredited restaurants and that the same was abused and the grant of cash advance to the members of the Board.
The dismissed members of the Board of Directors are lawyer Esteban Somngi, Rocky M. Aliping, Enrique Moresto, Jonathan C. Obar, Robert L. Valentin, Josephine Tuling, Luke Gomeyac, Peter Busaing, Jeffred Acop, Mike Maspil and James Aclopen.
The suspended BENECO officers are Engr. Melchor S. Licoben, incumbent general manager, Brenda Carling, Internal Audit head and Engr. Rocky Pallogan, former manager of the Non-Network Services Department.
On the other hand, the NEA also recalled and revoked the probationary appointment of former Presidential Communications Operation Office (PCOO) Assistant Secretary Ana Marie Rafael because the status of BENECO as a Class AAA cooperative was downgraded to Class C during her term.
In turn, energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla designated Almeda as the Project Supervisor of BENECO effective immediately.
As Project Supervisor, Almeda was tasked to supervise the management and operation of the electric cooperative to ensure the delivery of electric service to its member-consumer-owners (MCOs), approve or disapprove BENECO board resolutions and perform such other tasks that may be assigned to him for the purpose of operational efficiency.
At the same time, Almeda immediately designated Engr. Ramel Rifani, incumbent manager of BENECO’s Non-Network Services Department, as the Acting General Manager for 6 months or until a regular General Manager shall have been appointed to the electric cooperative.
As the Acting GM, Rifani shall manage the day to day operations of the electric cooperative to ensure the efficient delivery of electric service to the MCOs, exercise powers to hire, fire, approve and disapprove personnel employment and movement, subject to the prior approval of the Task Force BENECO, acting as the electric cooperative’s Board of Directors and confirmation of the Project Supervisor; sign or counter- sign checks, withdrawal slips, and other banking transactions for and in behalf of the cooperative with all banks where BENECO has an account and perform such other tasks or duties that may be assigned or directed by the NEA for the purpose of operational efficiency.
Moreover, Almeda also ordered the creation of Task Force BENECO composed of representatives from multi-sectoral groups to serve as the electric cooperative’s interim Board of Directors for a period of 6 months or until such time that the new members shall have been elected by the MCOs.
Serving as chairman of the Task force is Steve Cating representing the business sector while the members will be lawyer George Dumawing from the consumer/professional sector; Rodolfo de Guia from the religious sector; Dr. Elma Donaal from the academe or education sector and Joaquin Geronimo Depalog, Jr. from the agriculture sector.
Under Office Order No. 2023-009, the Task Force BENECO shall perform the duties and responsibilities of an electric cooperative Board of Directors where it shall promulgate, pass and approve board resolutions/policies; oversee the operations of the cooperative; review its governance policies and practices and institute measures for reforms; obtain and encourage commitment building from the electric cooperative leaders and officers and employees as well s stakeholders; conduct roundtable assessment with stakeholders as the need arises to resolve operational and management issues and concerns and perform such other functions as may be required by NEA.
The Task Force BENECO chairman and the Acting General manager shall serve as signatories in the issuance of checks, withdrawal slips and other banking transactions of BENECO with all its depository banks.
Subsequently, actions, decisions or resolutions of the task force shall be subject to the confirmation of the NEA.