11 directors, 2 DMs suspended: NEA asked to set aside order vs BENECO execs
The board of directors (BODs) and two department heads of the Benguet Electric Cooperative who were ordered suspended by the National Electrification Administration in December 2021 have asked the regulatory agency to set aside its decision.
In a motion for reconsideration filed by the respondents’ counsel, Atty. Joel Dizon, it asked the NEA board of administrators (NEA-BOA) to set aside its Dec. 9, 2021 decision that suspended for 90 days the Beneco BODs, Internal Audit Department Manager Brenda Carling, and Institutional Services (ISD) Department Manager Delmar Cariño.
The decision included the 11 Beneco BODs, four of whom have been estranged from the electric cooperative.
The suspension stemmed from the administrative case filed by NEA based on the adverse findings on the Financial and Management Audit of Beneco from June 2014 to December 2017, which found about the BOD’s grant upon themselves of excess benefits and allowances.
The decision said the BODs received per diems in excess of the amount they are supposed to get for two meetings a month. The NEA-BOA said BODs are allowed to hold a third session in a month, but their per diems will still be for a maximum of two board meetings.
It also took exception to the gasoline, information dissemination, grocery, insurance, and rainwear allowances, among other benefits, received by the BODs, which were not sanctioned by the regulatory agency.
The NEA-BOA asked the BODs to return to Beneco P3,672,501 representing the excess per diems they received; P396,000 disallowed information dissemination allowance; P2,872,517.84 disallowed gasoline allowance; P525,517.67 excess amount of 13th month pay; P175,000.99 annual grocery allowance; P155,934.15 insurance and rainwear allowances; and P668,300 Christmas bonus.
In including Carling and Cariño as respondents in the case, the NEA-BOA said they were administratively liable for “knowingly disbursing the excess per diems to the BOD.”
The NEA-BOA said Carling was responsible for the disbursement of P225,000 each as token of appreciation to two outgoing directors, instead of P114,750 allowed by NEA.
In the motion for reconsideration, Dizon asked the NEA-BOA to set aside its decision, saying it is not supported by evidence on record. It added the former committed irregularities prejudicial to the interest of the respondents.
The motion said the penalty of 90-day suspension is “too harsh in the absence of express finding of moral turpitude.”
“Nowhere and at no time was it ever alleged that the respondents acted with ‘willful grave, malicious, wanton, or arbitrary’ manner as to earn an administrative reprisal as punitive and consequential as suspension from statutory duty,” the motion stated.
Among other arguments, Dizon said the operations of Beneco are confined within the terms and conditions of its yearly operating budget that was presented to the member-consumers and was approved by NEA and the expenses incurred by the BODs in the exercise of their duties conformed to and fall within the NEA-approved budget of Beneco.
“If there be any perceived irregularities in the implementation of the operating budget, the very proof that the irregularities are not anomalies at the same time, is the fact that these perceived irregularities are all laid bare for discovery. There is not one disbursement that was made surreptitiously or in any manner of secrecy. In fact, they were all timely disclosed to NEA in various reportorial resolutions.”
In a separate motion for reconsideration, Cariño also asked the NEA-BOA to reverse and set aside its decision and clear him of any administrative liability, saying he had nothing to do with the disbursement of excess per diems and other disallowed benefits to the BODs.
“The decision failed to recognize the fact that the respondent has nothing to do with the disbursement of the excess per diems and other disallowed benefits. As a responsible officer of Beneco, the respondent did not participate in knowingly disbursing the excess per diems since as a department manager of the ISD, his office does not participate in the disbursement of funds,” Cariño said in his motion.
Cariño added that as ISD manager, he and his functions defer to the general manager and not the BOD.
In an interview, BOD president Esteban Somngi deplored NEA-BOA’s motu proprio charge.
He said the charges should have emanated from a complaint and not simply from NEA-BOA acting on its own.
“There was never a complaint accompanied by a certificate of non-forum shopping executed by any personnel of NEA. With the motu proprio charge, the NEA-BOA acted as the complainant, the prosecutor, and the judge,” he said.
Somngi said the third sessions they conducted in a month were devoted to discussions on renewable energy projects and among the results of which is the construction of the Man-asok Hydro Power Plants in Buguias.
On the allowances and benefits the BOD received, Somngi said: “Those were already existing. We did not demand for those benefits and allowances.”
He also took exception to the NEA-BOA’s order for the BOD to return to Beneco the excess per diems, allowances, and benefits, saying BOD members joined Beneco on different years and therefore members received different amounts.
If at all the BOD should return the excess per diems, benefits and allowances, Somngi said there should be a computation on how much each BOD should reimburse, depending on the years each member spent with Beneco.
“But we will contest this (order to return) because we have worked and while receiving those allowances and per diems. Beneco never increased its rates just to provide for the benefits we received,” he said. – Jane B. Cadalig