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Latest Beneco chapter | The Manila Times

ON the matter of the Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) that has been roiling Baguio for the past few years, the National Electrification Administration (NEA) finally made some bold decisions, effective immediately.

First was the removal of the entire board of directors and the appointment of a temporary new board taken from various sectors of Beneco consumers. They actually had been previously suspended for 90 days. A NEA administrator is an officer in charge who, in turn, has appointed other officers. The previous Malacañang appointee from the past administration is effectively removed, as this was done through the NEA, which has now corrected itself.

The NEA cited the deterioration of Beneco from an AA electrical cooperative to one with a CC status.

But the Beneco deterioration came way before and Baguio and Benguet consumers tolerated it. It developed for many reasons, which were invisible or kept from the public. Beneco was always a source of largesse for public relations.

Many years before, the overstaying president was extended despite his having reached retirement age and questions about his management. There was conflict of interest in suppliers to Beneco for decades, with many of the supplier companies having ties to the officers. There were complaints and even cases filed for favoring relatives in contracts. But Beneco plodded along untouched.

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The board of directors helped themselves to the cooperative’s cash through exorbitant allowances, i.e., gas allowance, even though directors are not supposed to be in operations, so did not need to travel; grocery money as though they were mendicants that needed to be provided food; rainy day wear, which is for employees like linemen and office workers, which they were not. And so on.

They were a defiant board who would meet more than twice a month against the rules for cooperative meetings in order to accumulate more extravagant per diems from each board meeting. They also helped themselves to cash advances. Furthermore, when the auditor requested that the corporate social responsibility (CSR) fund be coursed through institutions, they were brazenly ignored. Everyone had heard how Beneco was funding political candidates, which electric cooperatives are specifically forbidden to do. That and somehow being so gently handled by some of Baguio media was telling about how that CSR was being used.

The above came way before the Duterte administration’s ill-advised appointment of a political figure as the new Beneco manager. This was a godsend for Beneco because she was an outsider and had no management experience in cooperatives and was therefore vulnerable to criticism. With this appointment, Beneco managed to change the narrative from anomalous allowances and benefits and other malfeasances into being victims of political power. They went to town in the Baguio media portraying themselves as persecuted. The new appointee was lambasted, the NEA officer who implemented the new appointment was declared persona non grata by the Baguio city council and for good measure, by the Benguet provincial council. Even the mayor was on Beneco’s side. How was that managed through charm, victimhood or falsehoods? I have a guess. The focus on the ill-starred appointee and not on why Beneco had to change its management was a public relations triumph based on faulty or deliberately withheld information and NEA bungling.

But reality finally caught up. As the board defiantly opposed the new appointee, the standoff between it and NEA took its toll, with banks caught in the crossfire, funds stranded in Beneco accounts, suppliers unpaid. Service, never really that great, deteriorated.

Finally, a closer look at the board directors’ conduct showed that even a Development Bank loan was misused. That and the unwarranted benefits and allowances provided the basis for their suspension by the NEA. By that time the Beneco status had fallen from AA to CC. There was a distinct service deterioration, yet the labor union sided with the old board, which is a mystery. But then it may not be a mystery as we have seen co-optation in the past.

The NEA had its hands full with Beneco’s troubles. But as I said, Beneco had them or started having them way back. For a long time it presented itself as a cooperative until it was discovered that it was not. Perhaps that is why Beneco consumers were never asked to elect directors for the Beneco board. The appointees they had were hardly accomplished or outstanding citizens, just a bunch of friends of the powers-that-be. No consumers elected them as is mandated in a cooperative. It is only in the past few years of its existence that Beneco registered as a cooperative. Interestingly, not long after there was a public row between it and the Cooperatives Authority, with Beneco again defying the rules.

In other words, there was something basically irregular in the Beneco operations from management maneuvers from way back which were tolerated by those who knew and ignored by those who did not know. And that is the Benguet and Baguio electric consumers, the general public, the local government and the media. Until now the media focuses on the now gone appointee as the main point of their Beneco narrative, eliding the sins of the former board of directors.

But the NEA has acted and now the chickens have come home to roost.

Will those concerned cooperate? Will those who illicitly benefited be asked to answer? Will Beneco improve? These are the questions that only time will tell.

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