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A Beneco executive is eager to open his books for auditing.

A representative of the Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) claimed she is willing to open the cooperative’s statement of finances to establish that the charges of improper withdrawals and financial transfers leveled against her and the agency are false.

After Melchor Licoben, former Beneco officer-in-charge, and Beneco Employees Labor Union (BELU) president Jefferd Monang claimed that the cooperative’s accounts in several banks had been frozen or closed, with several unauthorized withdrawals made, Beneco General Manager Ana Maria Rafael made the statement.

She denied “cornering” cash intended for Beneco employees’ retirement benefits through the Beneco Employees Retirement Program (BERP), which is a limited account.

“I can always examine Beneco’s statement of finances to see what’s going on since yung pera na wala sa atin yung pera na wala sa atin yung pera na wala sa atin yung pera na wala (to show them that funds are not with me). It was withdrawn a long time ago because “ang makaka-access kasi doon (those who can access), the BERP account, is not only me,” she stated in a Jan. 6 interview with the Philippine News Agency.

Rafael, a lawyer, claims that the BERP account with the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) was removed before September 30, 2021, which is when the bank agreed to recognize her as one of Beneco’s signatories.

“We didn’t take the money out since it’s a restricted fund, so we couldn’t.” That is a fabrication. The money is still there… It’s beyond us since there are so many signatories who need to sign before it can be accessed (there are so many signatories who need to sign before it can be accessed). She continued, “In truth, nasa kanila yung pera (the monies are with them).”

The banks’ legal department approved to add Rafael as one of the signatories of Beneco accounts since she and four members of the Board of Directors (BODs) were able to comply with all legal criteria, according to lawyer Omar Mayo, project supervisor for Beneco.

“So kung para sa benepisyo ng empleyado wala na sa amin, kinuha na po nila yung pera,” Rafael, a former Assistant Secretary of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, explained (PCOO).

Deposits have been halted

Since the first week of October, Licoben’s camp has stopped depositing daily collections to the DBP and the Philippine National Bank, according to Mayo.

He claimed that the majority of Beneco’s loans, which include the PHP309 million Man-asok Hydro Power Generation Project and another set of loans covering 18 promissory notes worth PHP84 million from the DBP’s Omnibus Credit Line, are “due and demandable,” and that the “stoppage of the daily collection pick-up from the payment collection centers in the City District has affected the payment of the loans with the bank.”

He said the available amount in Beneco’s DBP BERP Statement of Account as of Nov. 5, 2021 is Php34,071,781.49.

Mayo stated that the funds have not been utilized or withdrawn because they are earmarked for employee retirement benefits.

He stated that the Man-asok Hydro Power Loan will be paid with PHP13 million from DBP’s general account.

He said the PHP58.6 million withdrawal from Beneco’s account at the LandBank Marcos Highway branch on December 6, 2022 will be used to pay the contractor MN Electro Industrial Supply and Services, Inc. when the sitios in Benguet are energized in accordance with the contract.

The PHP58.6 million is the balance from the NEA subsidy of PHP87.2 million for the energization of 79 Benguet sitios, according to Mayo, and is part of the audit results for the period of January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2020.

MN Electro was paid 15% of the overall contract price, he added, but would only be reimbursed in full after the sitios are fully energized.

MN Electro can always request payment, Rafael stated, “but this is subject to NEA examination and validation, as well as beneficiary acceptance if the sitios were indeed energized.”

She urged LGUs, municipal officials, and barangay officials to check whether the energization of sitios in Benguet had been completed.

Rafael also stated that the PHP58.6 million was not taken out in an unlawful manner.

“We just switched the account to another account to secure the funds so they can’t withdraw prior to the project’s implementation,” she explained, referring to the previous bank signatories.

As of September 2021, Beneco has a loan with the NEA of PHP122.069 million.

Rafael promised Beneco staff their job security despite the leadership disagreement.

“Despite all of the nangyari, I assured them that walang maalis sa kanila.” And, despite everything that has transpired, dun sa perks nila, kung ano yung pera nandun sa DBP, ‘yun lang ang pera (I told them that none of them will lose their employment). And as for their advantages, whatever is available at the DBP is all that is available),” she explained.

The leadership stalemate began when NEA named Rafael as the new Beneco general manager, despite Beneco’s nomination of Licoben, who had been acting as officer-in-charge, for the role.

The NEA supported Rafael’s appointment as general manager of Beneco by emphasizing the legal foundation for the selection process.

Rafael was chosen by the NEA Board of Administrators (BOA) because she had the highest score during the final interview.

According to NEA Board Resolution No. 2021-47, Licoben received a score of 82.75 percent, whereas Rafael received a score of 94 percent.

Based on the legal opinion provided by the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel, the Board accepted Rafael’s appointment as general manager instead of Licoben on July 29, 2021.

According to the OGCC, an officer-in-charge (OIC) GM who seeks the position of GM must resign his OIC designation as mandatory per NEA Memorandum 2017-035.

The OGCC further stated that the NEA is allowed and empowered to monitor the management of all-electric cooperatives that are subject to the State’s police power since they hold legislative franchises and do business in the public interest.

The Beneco board of directors (BOD) Resolution No. 2021-87, rejecting NEA’s resolution endorsing Rafael (as contained in NEA Board Resolution No. 2021-47) and reiterating Licoben’s appointment as the new Beneco chief (as contained in Beneco’s BOD Resolution No. 2020-90), was also declared “unreasonable” by Resolution No. 2021-71.

The NEA BOA deemed the justification in Beneco BOD Resolution No. 2021-87 to be in violation of NEA Memorandum 2017-035, which governs the hiring, firing, and suspension of general managers of electric cooperatives.

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