Beneco exec willing to open accounts for scrutiny

A Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) official said she is willing to open the cooperative’s statement of accounts for scrutiny to prove that unauthorized withdrawal and fund transfer allegations hurled against her and the agency are untrue.

Beneco General Manager Ana Maria Rafael made the statement 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 either been frozen or closed with several unauthorized withdrawals made.

She denied that she “cornered” funds meant for Beneco employees’ retirement benefits under the Beneco Employees Retirement Program (BERP), a restricted account.

“I can always open the statement of accounts of Beneco para makita nila na wala sa atin yung pera (to show them that funds are not with me). It was long before withdrawn because ang makaka-access kasi doon (those who can access), the BERP account, is not just me,” she said in an interview with the Philippine News Agency on Jan. 6.

Rafael, a lawyer, said the BERP account with the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) has been withdrawn prior to Sept. 30, 2021, which is before the bank decided to acknowledge her as among the signatories for Beneco’s account.

“We did not withdraw the amount because it’s a restricted fund so we cannot do that. That’s a lie. The money is intact…Ang daming signatories na kailangang pumirma bago ito ma-access (There are so many signatories that need to sign before it can be accessed) so it’s beyond us. In fact, nasa kanila yung pera (the funds are with them),” she added.

Lawyer Omar Mayo, project supervisor for Beneco, said the banks’ legal department decided to include Rafael as among the signatories of Beneco accounts since she and four members of the Board of Directors (BODs) were able to comply with all legal requirements.

“So kung para sa benepisyo ng empleyado wala na sa amin, kinuha na po nila yung pera (So the funds meant for the benefits of employees are not with us, they have already withdrawn the money),” said Rafael, former Assistant Secretary of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO).

Deposit halt

Mayo said Licoben’s camp stopped depositing the daily collections to the DBP and the Philippine National Bank since the first week of October.

He said the bulk of the loans of Beneco, which covers the 3-megawatt Man-asok Hydro Power Generation Project worth PHP309 million and another set of loans covering 18 promissory notes worth PHP84 million from the Omnibus Credit Line with the DBP, “is due and demandable hence, 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.”

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

Mayo said the amount has not been used nor withdrawn since the amount is intended for the retirement benefits of employees.

Around PHP13 million in the general account of DBP will be used to pay for the Man-asok Hydro Power Loan, he added.

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

Mayo said the PHP58.6 million is the balance from the NEA subsidy worth PHP87.2 million for the energization of 79 sitios of Benguet and is part of the audit findings covering the period Jan. 1 2018 to Dec. 31, 2020.

He said MN Electro was paid 15 percent of the total contract price, but will only be fully paid after the sitios are fully energized.

Rafael said MN Electro can always request for payment “but this is subject to inspection and validation of the NEA and acceptance of beneficiaries if the sitios were really energized.”

She appealed to local government units (LGUs), municipal officials, and barangay officials to validate whether the energization of sitios in Benguet have been implemented.

Rafael added that there was no unauthorized withdrawal of the PHP58.6 million.

“We just transferred the account to another account to secure the amount para hindi nila ma-withdraw (so that they cannot withdraw) prior to implementation of the project,” she said referring to the previous bank signatories.

Beneco has an outstanding loan with the NEA worth PHP122.069 million as of September 2021.

Despite the leadership dispute, Rafael assured Beneco employees of their job stability.

“I assured them na walang maalis sa kanila despite lahat ng mga nangyari. And dun sa benefits nila, kung ano yung pera nandun sa DBP, ‘yun lang ang pera (I assured them that none of them will lose their jobs despite everything that happened. And on their benefits, whatever is there at the DBP, that’s all there is),” she said.

The leadership impasse stemmed from NEA’s appointment of Rafael as new Beneco general manager despite Beneco naming Licoben, who had been serving as officer-in-charge, for the position.

The NEA defended its choice of Rafael as Beneco general manager, citing the legal basis of the selection process.

The NEA Board of Administrators (BOA) decided to select Rafael as she was the candidate with the higher score during the final interview.

Licoben scored 82.75 percent while Rafael drew a 94-percent mark, according to NEA Board Resolution No. 2021-47

The Board on July 29, 2021, approved the appointment of Rafael as general manager instead of Licoben, based on the legal opinion rendered by the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel.

The OGCC cited that under NEA Memorandum 2017-035, an officer-in-charge (OIC) GM, who applies for the position for GM, shall relinquish his OIC designation as mandatory.

The OGCC also said NEA is authorized and empowered to supervise the management of all electric cooperatives that are subject to the police power of the State as they are holders of legislative franchises and their business is imbued with the public interest.

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

The NEA BOA found the justification in the Beneco BOD Resolution No. 2021-87 as violative of NEA Memorandum 2017-035, which pertains to the selection, hiring, and termination of services, suspension for the general managers of electric cooperatives.

Source: Philippines News Agency

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