February 6, 2023

AS BENECO WOES CONTINUE, IS IT STILL BUSINESS AS USUAL?

If and when possible, even when cases are pending in the courts, we call on the highest authorities to intervene in the leadership crisis in Benguet Electric Cooperative given the worsening issues and state of the cooperative which if not urgently addressed could lead to the downfall of one of the best performing power distribution utilities in the country.

As many feared, the leadership turmoil which the Beneco should not have been experiencing in the first place has again made an ugly turn, with the latest update that revealed its unpaid obligations, warning that the worst may yet to come for this triple AAA cooperative with its thousands of member-consumers as collateral damage.

At the city council session last week, it was revealed that Beneco has failed to pay its obligations to its power supply provider Team Energy since April amounting to P342 million. The failure was not and never due to lack of funds, but because its bank accounts have been frozen by the banking institutions due to the ongoing power struggle, consequently denying Beneco’s access to the funds needed to pay its dues and to sustain its operational expenses, programs, and other financial obligations.

The Beneco board of directors and its appointed manager have informed the city council it is likely that power supply in its service areas will be cut off if it cannot pay up soon and if the power supplier decides to take more drastic means to stem the ballooning dues.

Worse, this might also imperil its contract negotiations with Team Energy, which is up for renewal.

While the freezing of Beneco’s accounts is a fair move from the banks, which are among those caught between two general managers each claiming to be legitimate, the saga turns uglier with allegations of harassment and intimidation by one of the camps, which resulted in the freezing of accounts to the other camp and the other being allowed to withdraw funds.

With the intervention of the city council, upon the request of the Beneco BOD-backed management, we welcome the agreement reached by the opposing parties to subject the conflict to mediation. We also agree that the mediation should focus on the concerns on funds and not who between Engr. Melchor Licoben and Atty. Ana Marie Rafael is the legitimate general manager since the issue is awaiting resolution from the Court of Appeals.

We could only hope this effort of coming into the discussion table will bring about relief. The matter is urgent and public interest is already being compromised.

Since the conflict started almost a year ago, we all knew that whichever side of this ongoing battle will win and be given the helm of Beneco, it is clear the member-consumers are the ones to suffer and will shoulder the consequences of the leadership crisis.

While some may shrug off the crisis as something that will soon run its course, or choose to detach from the issues as long as electricity reaches residences and powers as usual the economic activities in Baguio City, Benguet, and some parts of Mountain Province, the thought of a major power interruption in Beneco’s service areas as an improbable scenario seems not impossible after all, if no positive breakthrough will come after almost a year of unrest within the utility provider’s management.

The call for sobriety has fallen on deaf ears. The call for status quo went unheeded. The fear for the disruption of Beneco services is now happening. Neither of the opposing camps can deny that in Beneco, it is no longer business as usual.

We call on the new administration to help solve the Beneco leadership crisis.

As a model EC which to date has been able to maintain the lowest electricity rate and least systems loss in the country among other accomplishments, let not its demise as a competent EC set a precedent in the industry.

With due respect to process, the leadership turmoil has to be resolved as soon as possible, before the damage it is causing become irreparable.

The member-consumers in Baguio and Benguet have been suffering through this crisis long enough, and needlessly.