THE Benguet Electric Cooperative (BENECO) was caught by surprise when an unknown entity ordered the withdrawal of some P58.6 million worth of money from the cooperative’s account with the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP), without authorization or approval from BENECO.

According to Advisory 2021-60, issued by  BENECO General Manager Melchor Licoben, BENECO never approved nor authorized the withdrawal of the amount, which was provided by the National Electrification Administration (NEA) for the electric cooperative’s Sitio Electrification Program (SEP).

At the same time, Licoben says that the bank neither asked for approval from BENECO prior to releasing the funds, nor did it reveal who ordered the withdrawal and under whose authority it was enacted.

A separate letter to LBP branch head Lisa Melendez by Licoben says that officials, employees and member-consumer-owners (MCOs) were “surprised and frustrated” by the sudden withdrawal, which allegedly took place on December 6.

The fund, being from national coffers, must follow utilization and usage rules on government fund spending in accordance with the Commission on Audit (COA) guidelines, and therefore cannot be disbursed or used for purposes other than what it was initially earmarked for, namely the SEP.

“Please be informed the subsidy funds to electric cooperatives are treated as receivables from the ECs and shall be treated as expense by the source agency only after liquidation of the project as specified in the subsidy memorandum of agreement,” Licoben said.

Licoben has subsequently warned LBP that it will be held accountable for advance audits findings related to the sum as it allowed the withdrawal without authorization, and that the LBP will also be held accountable to the NEA for its accounting and reporting requirements, as well as any consequence to misappropriation of the funds.

The manager also demanded that the LBP refurbish the account or face legal consequences.

A more recent advisory from BENECO, Advisory 2021-64, suspends BENECO collection and payment services with several partner banks over not only the withdrawal, but also for the banks’ actions following the management conflict that led to the takeover of BENECO headquarters earlier in the year.

LBP and Philippine National Bank (PNB) payment services are no longer accepted as the bank effected a change in signatory and closure of BENECO’s account. Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) has been nixed for not recognizing GM Licoben and Chairperson Somngi as the signatories for BENECO, while Rang-ay Bank, Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), and Metrobank have had collection operations suspended for freezing BENECO’s accounts with said banks. Summit Bank meanwhile filed a Declaratory Relief before the court and has subsequently had BENECO pull out collection services through the bank.

“We would like to encourage those who paid through the banks mentioned above to request for a refund from the banks and provide our office with your proof of payment for our reference. Although the payments made will reflect as arrearages, we will not implement any disconnection nor impose any surcharges,” Licoben wrote in the advisory.