THE National Electrification Administration (NEA) has written a formal request to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to conduct a thorough and in-depth investigation into possible criminal acts and/or other irregularities that may have attended the transactions undertaken by the former members of the board of directors and management officials of the Benguet Electric Cooperative (BENECO).
In its letter to Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla dated 21 February 2023, the agency apprised the DOJ about the result of the motu proprio investigations it had conducted due to the adverse findings/observations on the financial and management audit conducted on BENECO.
Last January, the NEA, through its Board of Administrators (NEA BOA), issued a decision ordering the removal of BENECO’s Board of Directors based on findings of long-standing irregularities in the management of BENECO.
In the same decision, the NEA BOA suspended BENECO Assistant General Manager Engr. Melchor Licoben for forty-five (45) days, finding him administratively liable for simple negligence as a first offense.
“Although the above findings of NEA in the administrative cases were limited to the administrative liabilities of the respondents, the matters unearthed therein strongly suggest that there was criminal fraud (i.e., estafa and/or other deceits, among others) committed by said respondents that resulted to the damage of BENECO, especially its member-consumer-owners,” the NEA said in its letter signed by Administrator Antonio Mariano Almeda.
Licoben, who will be concluding his 45-day suspension, said that the board of directors and he only learned of the issue through the NEA press release and so they cannot comment on the matter until they formally receive a copy of the said letter.
It was further noted that the substantial amounts involved in the transactions and the apparent unlawful abuse of confidence by the board of directors and management officials of BENECO, who are charged with the fiduciary duty to faithfully administer the affairs of the electric cooperative, appear to have committed criminal conspiracy to the damage and prejudice of the electric cooperative and its member-consumer-owners.
The letter request for a fact-finding investigation, together with all pertinent and relevant documents which may be needed in the conduct of the investigation, were submitted to the DOJ on 22 February 2023.
Meanwhile, the Baguio City Council has unanimously approved a resolution “strongly supporting” the passage of House Bill No. 6145 which seeks to grant a legislative franchise to BENECO to construct, install, establish, operate, and maintain a generation and distribution system for the conveyance of electric power to the end users in Baguio City and all the municipalities of the Province of Benguet.
In the said resolution which he authored, Vice Mayor Faustino Olowan quoted Baguio City Congressman Marquez Go’s statement that granting a legislative franchise to BENECO “will ensure the continuous supply and delivery of affordable, efficient, and safe electric power to the people of Baguio City and the Province of Benguet.”
On November 15, 2022, Go filed before House Bill No. 6145 for the renewal of the 50-year franchise of BENECO to operate as an electric distribution utility. The franchise was granted on March 20, 1978, and will end on March 20, 2028.
Olowan said the renewal of BENECO’s franchise will “benefit all the constituents of Baguio City as well as those in the Province of Benguet.”
Mentioning the numerous awards it has received, Olowan stressed that BENECO’s generation rate for the on-grid cooperatives is very “affordable” and that doing business in Benguet is “economically viable” in terms of power consumption rates. He attributed this to the electric cooperative’s “foresight” in acknowledging the dire need to enter into a bilateral power supply contract with an independent power producer in 2003.
“BENECO was one of the first, if not the first electric cooperative to enter into a bilateral power supply contract with an independent power producer right after the passage of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act or EPIRA LAW in 2001,” the resolution read.
BENECO is a consistent recipient of awards, citations, and recommendations from the National Electrification Administration (NEA), the Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (PHILRECA), and other agencies all over the country.
In 2017, BENECO was recognized by NEA for having the lowest rate for on-grid electric cooperatives in the country. Similarly, it received the “Ace of Tariff” Award bestowed by PHILRECA for the years 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021.
Furthermore, BENECO is included in the list of electric cooperatives in the country with 90-100% level of energization as shown in NEA’s performance assessment. – with Jordan G. Habbiling