BENECO union hails NEA removal of general manager

Sherwin de Vera
BENECO union hails NEA removal of general manager

NEW BEGINNING. National Electrification Administration chief Antonio Almeda (second from right) administers the oath of the interim Benguet Electric Cooperative Board of Directors, as Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong (rightmost) witnesses the event.

(Screen capture from Beneco Employees Labor Union)

Unfreezing the cooperative's bank accounts 'will be the first order of business' once the interim board of directors starts its task, says National Electrification Administration chief Antonio Almeda

VIGAN, Philippines — The workers union of the Benguet Electric Cooperative (BENECO) called the removal of general manager Ana Maria Rafael “an initial victory” that gives them room to work with the National Electrification Administration (NEA).

NEA administrator Antonio Almeda on Wednesday, January 11 announced the removal of the cooperative’s current Board of Directors (BOD). He also recalled the appointment of lawyer Rafael as BENECO’s general manager.

Almeda likewise suspended union ally and former general manager Melchor Licoben, who had been chosen by majority of the board to lead the cooperative.

Rafael said the NEA move left her “surprised, bothered, and bewildered.”

“The allegations in the letter I received are skewed and whimsical. These are totally baseless,” Rafael said in a statement.

Almeda’s January 10 letter said Rafael failed “to meet the NEA Key Performance Standards.”

The NEA Board of Administrators (BOA) removed directors Esteban Somngi, Rocky Aliping, Enrique Moresto, Jonathan Obar, Robert Valentin, Josephine Tuling, Luke Gomeyac, Peter Busaing, Jeffred Acop, Mike Maspil, and James Aclopen “based on findings of long-standing irregularities in the management of BENECO” from the audit covering January 2018 to December 2020.

The decision also found Licoben “administratively liable,” leading to his suspension.

NEA created a five-person, multi-sectoral task force to fill the leadership vacuum. It will act as the interim board. Almeda also assigned BENECO network systems manager Ramel Rifani as acting general manager for six months.

“We will not give up the fight because we are fighting for what is right. It’s a win for us today, but we assure that GM Mel (Licoben) will come back,” said BENECO Employees Labor Union president Jefferd Monang in a January 11 online interview.

“As for the board, we know that they are always there… we (will) pray for their cases,” he added.

Almeda clarified that Licoben would return as assistant general manager, the position he held before the leadership row, after he serves the 45-day suspension.

“Licoben’s penalty is without prejudice of him filing again his certificate of candidacy to participate in the selection (and) appointment process of a regular general manager,” he added.

‘Baseless’

BENECO employees were among the thousands who marched in October 2021 to take back the main office two days after the NEA representative and armed police occupied the compound to install Rafael.

Rafael said the NEA move left her “surprised, bothered, and bewildered.”

BOTHERED AND BEWILDERED. Newly-removed Benguet Electric Cooperative (BENECO) general manager Ana Maria Rafael issues a statement of protest.

The former GM said the restraints imposed on BENECO authority, coupled with the volatile situation within the coop, meant their work plan “was doomed to fail.”

Since Rafael’s assumption on September 1, 2021, BENECO’s performance regressed to category B from Triple A in the NEA’s 2019 Overall Performance Assessment of electric cooperatives.

Almeda’s move came after more than a year of leadership dispute between Rafael and Licoben.

Rafael claimed that “unliquidated funds and corruption issues,” before her appointment were the reason for BENECO’s slide in performance.

“We will explore legal remedies to address the issue. As a matter of rights, NEA had failed to implement its own order of appointment creating confusion and disarray in the management of BENECO,” Rafael stated.

Fund access, accounting

Almeda, who also assumed as BENECO’s project supervisor, said unfreezing the cooperative’s bank accounts “will be the first order of business” once the interim BOD starts their task.

“We will be issuing a board resolution, and as project supervisor, I will be directing the BOD to immediately inform the banks that there will be only one BENECO,” he said.

“All operations, business, and fiscal management will be consolidated in the head office,” the NEA chief added.

The leadership row forced several banks to put transactions with both parties on hold, pending the dispute resolution, while others acknowledged Rafael’s camp. This caused BENECO to incur debts from its power supplier, forcing the city council to intervene.

Almeda also said the NEA dispatched two audit teams to look into the financial status of Rafael’s office and the head office, which was under Licoben.

“She (Rafael) will be directed to account for all the money that came in during her stint and it will be incorporated into one account,” he added. – Rappler.com

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