De Lima seeks probe into forceful takeover of Benguet electric coop

Opposition Senator Leila de Lima has called for a congressional probe into the reported takeover of the Benguet Electric Cooperative (BENECO) by the National Electrification Administration (NEA).

De Lima, chair of the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, has filed Senate Resolution No. 937 seeking to determine whether the force and intrusion purportedly carried out by heavily armed police officers was legal.

“With the uproar that this incident has caused, there is a clear need to determine whether the NEA's takeover was valid and legal under our relevant laws,” De Lima said.

“An inquiry into this incident is also necessary to ensure the regularity of police operations nationwide in order to guarantee the safety and protection of Filipinos,” added the senator who is running for re-election in the upcoming May 2022 national elections.

Last October 18, about 50 policemen deployed by the Cordillera Police Office reportedly broke into the offices of BENECO along Baguio’s South Drive to allow lawyer Omar Mayo, a NEA-appointed caretaker, to assume control over BENECO.

BENECO has reportedly been one of the country’s top-performing rural electric cooperatives. The takeover allegedly paved the way for Ana Maria Paz Rafael-Banaag, a lawyer, to assume as the utility’s general manager despite public outcry and protests over her alleged ineligibility to manage BENECO.

According to Mark Anthony Amisola, vice president of BENECO Employees Labor Union, the employees did not report for work and instead staged a sit-down protest because they were "scared by policemen in full battle gear who broke into their offices.”

Though employees and member-consumer-owners (MCOs) managed to take back BENECO headquarters last Oct. 21, De Lima emphasized the need to ascertain whether NEA exceeded its authority in taking over BENECO despite the absence of any indication that the latter is an ailing cooperative.

“NEA's mandate should be reviewed to ascertain whether it provides sufficient safeguards against abuses that run contrary to the spirit of the Philippine Cooperative Code,” she said.

She said the police's involvement in the takeover also casts further questions.

“If the reports are any indication, the manner in which the police conducted their operations to carry out a relatively benign suspension order was not only excessive but also completely unnecessary in terms of the show and display of excessive force against unarmed civilians,” she said.