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Brownouts in Baguio, Benguet feared if BENECO-NEA rift continues

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BAGUIO CITY and Benguet province may experience power service interruptions if the management standoff between Benguet Electric Cooperative, Inc. (BENECO) and the National Electric Administration (NEA) are not resolved soon, a senator said on Wednesday.

Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian, Senate Committee on Energy chair, said in a news release that he has filed a resolution calling for a full-blown inquiry on the BENECO-NEA squabble to avert potential “brownouts in Baguio City or in any of the 13 towns served by the company.”

Mr. Gatchalian said he has been informed that BENECO is having difficulties as some banks are not accepting the signature of Melchor S. Licoben as BENECO’s general manager.

BENECO’s board of directors elected Mr. Licoben after the retirement of the late general manger (GM) Gerardo P. Versoza on April 30, 2020.

However, NEA, which has supervisory powers over electric cooperatives, also appointed Ana Maria Paz Rafael to the position for scoring highest in the interview.

Ms. Rafael took over on Oct. 18, escorted by around 50 heavily-armed members of the Philippine National Police, which led to the two-day closure of the BENECO office.

In an emailed statement on Wednesday, NEA said its appointment of Ms. Rafael was based on Memorandum 2017-035, which contains revised policies on the selection of electric cooperative GMs.

The agency added that it is still investigating BENECO officials for administrative liabilities based on adverse audit findings and observations from June 2014 to Dec. 2017 and from Jan. 2018 to Dec. 2020.

On the other hand, BENECO legal counsel Delmar O. Carino said in a mobile message on Wednesday that NEA’s intervention violated its own rules of GM recruitment under NEA Memoranda 2017-035 and 2018-004.

“The act of NEA ignored the power of the BENECO board of directors to choose the GM,” Mr. Carino said. He added that the cooperative welcomes the investigation proposed by Mr. Gatchalian. — Bianca Angelica D. Anago

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