BAGUIO COUNCIL TO MEDIATE BENECO ROW TO SETTLE OUTSTANDING OBLIGATIONS

9 August 2022 – The City Council, during last Monday’s regular session, tasked the Committee on Public Utilities, traffic and Transport Legislation to mediate the feuding camps of the Benguet Electric Cooperative (BENECO) for the possible settlement of the electric cooperative, especially with its power supplier and the National Grid Corporation (NGCP), to prevent its power supply from being cut off leading to blackouts within its franchise area.

The decision of the local legislative body was reached following the appearances of the 2 contending parties to the long-standing leadership impasse that continues to sow confusion among the member-consumer-owners (MCOs), the power supplier, NGCP, concerned government agencies and the electric cooperative’s depository banks.

Earlier, BENECO general manager Engr. Melchor S. Licoben and board chairman lawyer Esteban Somngi sought the assistance of the local government to compel the electric cooperative’s depository banks to release the frozen funds for the same to be able to pay its obligations with its power supplier among othye4rs to avoid its power supply from being cut off that will lead to total power outages in the Baguio and Benguet areas.

Licoben disclosed that BENECO is already in default on the payment of its power bill with TEAM Energy by more than P30.6 million. Further, BENECO is also in default on the payment of its power bill in May by around P67 million.

He added that for the succeeding months, there is a big possibility that BENECO will not be able to settle its power bill amounting to more than P245 million monthly that might compel the power supplier to cut off the power supply that will lead to total power outages in the future.

The BENECO official claimed that its various depository banks unilaterally decided to change the signatories to its bank accounts to another set of signatories that is why the electric cooperative is no longer in control of its funds. Some banks decided to freeze its accounts following issues that were raised on the legitimacy of the general manager with the decision of the controversial National Electrification Administration – Board of Administrators (NEA-BOA) to appoint an unqualified applicant to the said position.

The council gave the committee some 30 days to pursue the mediation following the commitment of the contending parties that they will subject themselves to the mediation on the specific issue on how to settle BENECO’s obligation with its power supplier and NGCP.

Licoben explained that it is good that BENECO’s power supplier is not enforcing the provision in their contract that there will be a surcharge on the unpaid power bills with collatilia for possible disconnection of power supply once the electric cooperative continues to be in default in the payment of its accumulated power bills.

The committee with first tackle with the parties the mode of settling BENECO’s unpaid obligations with its power supplier and how to continue paying the same before tackling other related issues on its obligation with other suppliers and the implementation of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects that were suspended.

The decision of the council to mediate the said problem is to avoid the country’s top performing electric cooperative from being negatively perceived with the current leadership impasse that is now worsening in the absence of the final ruling from the Court of Appeals (CA) on the leadership issue. - Dexter A. See