NEA speaks on viral video of BENECO takeover

Benise Balaoing, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 20 2021 04:00 PM | Updated as of Oct 20 2021 04:58 PM

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MANILA (UPDATED) – The National Electrification Administration (NEA) has spoken up on the viral video of its takeover of the Benguet Electric Cooperative (BENECO) on Monday morning. 

Various news websites reported that on October 18, more than 50 police officers stormed the office of BENECO in Baguio to impose preventive suspension orders on its president, seven board members, and general manager after they refused to recognize the new general manager appointed by the NEA.

 

In an interview on ANC's "Rundown," BENECO project supervisor Omar Mayo said the suspension order for the cooperative's top officials was dated September 28.

But he held off its implementation after they told him that they had a petition questioning the appointment of former Presidential Communications Operation Office Assistant Secretary Ana Marie Rafael-Banaag as its new general manager pending before the Court of Appeals. 

Banaag was chosen to replace acting general manager Engr. Melchor Licoben.

"The order suspending Engineer Licoben and the seven directors (was) served on September 28 so they knew that for a fact. Yet we did not go to that extent; I held back because they were saying they had a petition filed with the Court of Appeals," he explained.

"I gave them all of three weeks to secure a temporary restraining order although the petition was filed way back in August. Almost 2 months...there is no official notice to NEA of the said petition. Because the rules would say before you file, you have to furnish the other party. We haven’t received any official notice from them."

The NEA moved to take over the BENECO, Mayo said, because of problematic findings in two audit reports of the company.

“It is one of the better cooperatives,” BENECO project supervisor Omar Mayo said. “But there are adverse audit findings and I will be more than willing to give you the adverse audit findings.”

He added, “This is borne out by two audit reports. Both adverse.”

“At NEA, Sir, we have color-coded reports,” Mayo said. “Blue, as far as I know it’s blue for almost perfect compliance. Violet, for those in the middle, with slight or more than slight modifications that may be needed, and red for those with gravely adverse audit findings,” he explained.

“For two past audit periods, meaning three years, there have been red reports for Beneco,” said Mayo.

But Atty. Esteban Somngi, the BENECO president who was preventively suspended, said this is not a reason for NEA to take over their cooperative.

“Yung mga audit reports, we can comply with that. Di ba?" he said.

"Kung meron mang mga red flags, okay you comply with this audit report, kung ano man yung pagkukulang, then you comply with this. And that is not a ground for them to forcibly enter o kaya’y i-appoint nila yung sarili nila, yung gusto nila maging GM because BENECO is a top-performing cooperative,” he said.

The Department of Energy is "watching the development and making sure there will be no interruption in service, Secretary Alfonso Cusi said.

"Let the new GM assume her position then tingnan natin ang truthfulness ng alleged reports. We don’t like abuses also from either side that’s what we're making sure na di magkaroon ng gulo," he told ANC's Headstart.

"I would ask those people opposed to the new GM to report to work and do their jobs to serve the people."

WHAT HAPPENED BEFORE

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Somngi said they rejected Banaag’s appointment because the NEA has no authority to appoint a new general manager.

“Hindi naman NEA ang may authority to appoint a GM. Under the bylaws, under the law, under the NEA Memorandum 2017-035, it is the board who has authority to appoint a general manager of a electric cooperative,” he said on ANC’s Rundown.

He also said that Banaag is not a member of the cooperative, and neither is she a resident or a consumer in the district. She also did not attend at least two of their annual general membership meetings--required qualifications for board members or officers of electric cooperatives under the law.

“Wala siyang qualification na five years experience to manage an electric cooperative,” he said.

Mayo, however, said that those qualifications only apply to board members and not the general manager.

“As a lawyer, I think the residency requirement and the annual attendance requirement is needed for the appointment of the board director.”

He added, “Because when it says officers, it refers to the officers of the board. Resident, yes--the board president, vice president, secretary, treasurer and other officers that may be elected by the board. It does not refer to the general manager Sir.”

Mayor, group denounce ‘forcible takeover’ of BENECO

Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong has denounced what he called the ‘’forcible takeover” of BENECO, saying that the cooperative is “the benchmark of the performance of electric cooperatives in the country.”

 

The Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (PHILRECA), the national organization of electric cooperatives across the country, also hit the “unlawful acts” of Banaag and Mayo in a statement posted on their Facebook page.

 

Banaag has yet to issue a statement on the incident.

Mayo, however, stressed that there was no forcible takeover of the facility.

“I would respectfully take exception to the said term ‘forcible takeover.’ Because there was a galvanized sheet that was supposed to be taking the place of a broken door, and it was there that I entered. I just had to push the table and then enter the premises,” he said.

“And allegedly there were some breakages. There was inspection conducted by the police in the morning of Monday, October 18, and there were no breakages.”

Mayo also said that he brought cops with him just for “keeping the peace.”

“We had some police officers, the police officers were mostly for purposes of civil disturbance just for the keeping the peace. And some, a few, as security, for security contingent.”

Somngi, however, disputes this narrative. 

“It’s a forcible takeover because you know, these full-battle gear police officers entered inside the headquarters, BENECO headquarters at 3 am. And they went there with those number of police officers, almost 50, and wala naman tao doon eh. Parang pumunta sila sa giyera,” he said.

He also said that officers could have enforced their preventive suspension during office hours.

“Why did they forcibly enter inside the premises which is a private property at 3 a.m.? If they had sufficient papers, court order whatsoever, they can enforce it at office hours.”

When asked about why they entered the BENECO premises at 3 a.m., Mayo said, “I had to leave that Sir, respectfully, to the discretion of the police officers during our briefing,” he said.

Pressed for details, he said, “It was agreed upon because I have, I am not privy to possible intelligence reports that they may have.”

--ANC, 20 October 2021