Benguet power coop officials axed for 90 days

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BAGUIO CITY (September 28,  2021) – Seven of the 10 Board of Directors (BOD) of the Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) including Board President lawyer Esteban Somngi and Officer-in-charge Melchor Licoben were suspended by the National Electrification Administration (NEA) for 90 days after defying the appointment of lawyer Ana Marie Paz Rafael as the cooperative’s general manager.

The NEA Board of Administrators (BOA) in Referendum number 6 ruled on September 22, 2021 to place Somngi, Licoben and BOD members Jefferd Acop, Mike Maspil, Peter Busaing, Jonathan Obar, Josephine Tuling, and Robert Valentin on preventive suspension, while an investigation is undertaken to find truth on the complaint against them by Atty. Rafael for indirect contempt, willful violation of NEA Rules, and conduct prejudicial to the interest of the cooperative and member-consumers after defying NEA’s appointment of the latter last week of August.

NEA-BOA Referendum number 6 was concurred by Undersecretary Emmanuel Juaneza as Alternate Chairperson to NEA Chairman, Sec. Alfonso Cusi, and Agustin Maddatu, Atty. Alipio Cirilo Badelles and Rene Gonzales as members.

NEA’s administrative committee on September 21 recommended to the NEA-BOA Somngi, Licoben and the 6 BOD members’ preventive suspension after considering their replies to a September 7 “Show Cause Order” asking them to explain why have they been barring lawyer Rafael from performing her appointment as Beneco general manager.

Unconvinced of their arguments that bantered on a still unresolved Court of Appeals petition for TRO and the supposed non-binding House of Representatives Energy Committee resolution, the NEA administrative committee ruled to suspend the Somngi, Licoben and the 6 BOD for 3 months to give way for the full investigation of the administrative complaint filed by Rafael and prevent them from influencing the probe results.

“It bears to note that NEA is vested with the power to impose disciplinary and pventive measures upon erring members of the BOD of electric cooperatives, its officers and employees,” NEA said while citing jurisprudence emanating from Republic Act 10531 (NEA Reform Act of 2013, amending PD 269, specifically Section 4-A providing supervisory powers of NEA over electric cooperatives.

NEA also cited that preventive suspension is a preliminary step in an administrative investigation, though explaining, “it is not a punishment”. “If they will be found guilty warranting removal, then he is removed or dismissed from office” it continued,  “this is the penalty”.  

For this reason, it stressed, “there is nothing improper in suspending an officer before he is given an opportunity to prove his innocence.”

NEA also said, “in administrative cases, preventive suspension may be imposed as a preliminary step in administrative investigation, aimed to prevent the respondents from using their position and the powers and prerogatives of the office to influence potential witnesses or tamper with records which maybe vital in the prosecution of the case against such respondents, as well as to prevent the respondents from committing further acts of malfeasance while in office.”

It further noted that the presence of the said officials in Beneco “has already compromised and continues to threaten the cooperatives’ operations as well as influence possible witnesses and/or pose threats to the safety and integrity of records and other evidence.

“Fixing Up” 

In the meantime, NEA appointed lawyer Omar Mayo, who with a team of NEA executives issued the preventive suspension Tuesday noon at the Beneco main headquarters along South Drive here, as Project Supervisor to address the ongoing conflict and virtual stand-off at the leadership of Beneco and also fix organizational management issues and concerns.  

Mayo has also been likewise ordered by NEA to supervise the management and operations of Beneco, assist the cooperative in the performance of its functions based on established policies, rules and regulations, approve or disapprove Beneco board resolutions in consultation with concerned NEA departments and perform other tasks as ordered by NEA.

Artemio A. Dumlao