LOCAL councilors criticized the Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) for planning to get a loan with National Electrification Administration (NEA) for the purchase of a P85-million property in Baguio City.

In his privilege speech delivered Monday, Councilor Fred Bagbagen accused Beneco and its Board of Directors of capricious spending, “with impunity and without fear of being questioned.”

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“The Board [of Directors] treats Beneco coffers as if it is their own private funds,” Bagbagen said.

He referred to Beneco’s published plans of purchasing a 1,500-square-meter property despite operational losses amounting to P23 million and net losses of close to P264 million.

The councilor criticized Beneco for an apparent lack of transparency by not informing its members regarding the plan and for disregarding letters that inquired about the purchase.

Questions he raised include why Beneco decided to purchase 1.2 hectares instead of its published advertisement of 1,500 square meters; why the purchase was not included in the agenda in its December 2009 general assembly meeting; to whom the purchase price will be passed; and why was the purchase not included in the cooperative’s three-year capital expenditure program.

Bagbagen also expressed doubt about the “real” purchase price of the property.

Board of Directors (BOD) president Ferdy Bayasen said they first have to review Bagbagen’s speech.

He assured they would issue a comprehensive response to the councilor’s allegations, but justified the board’s approval of the purchase of a property.

He assured the loan will not be charged on consumers for it is not part of any proposal to increase rates to the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

In a text message, Bayasen said the lot was bought to house several offices of Beneco in one compound, adding that it would improve efficiency in their delivery of service.

In the same property, a multi-purpose gym and an assembly area will be built.

At present, he said Beneco hires venues for assemblies. “This new venue will be shared by all Beneco stakeholders including the Blessed Association of Retired Persons (Barp), who hold meetings at the Athletic Bowl.”

Barp is one of the critics of Beneco.

The building will also host sports activities and other socially-related activities, Bayasen said.

“Hopefully with this new headquarters, we will solve parking woes for Beneco employees, directors, paying consumers and all stakeholders,” Bayasen said, as this would help decongest major arteries in La Trinidad and the business district.

He said the board intended to replicate the Philippine Development Academy in Cebu, where employees and officials of all the 129 cooperatives could hold their trainings and seminars, “thus boosting Baguio as a business and leisure destination.”

He said the board also hopes to improve its Quick Response Time (QRT) for maintenance jobs “by strategically locating our base away from the entanglement of traffic.”

The City Council, meanwhile, passed seven resolutions supporting Bagbagen’s call.

These include having the council pass a resolution calling on the cooperative to comply with its obligations to its members, such as payment of meter deposits amounting to P75 million, payment of the P33 million overcharge, and payment of refund discounts.

Beneco was also asked to submit to the council documents related to the property’s purchase, audit reports and maintenance expenses.

The NEA and the ERC were also asked to investigate the purchase and for the City Legal Office to file administrative and criminal charges, as well as file for the nullification of the deed of absolute sale.

The property’s broker will also be invited in one of their sessions to clarify the issues raised by Bagbagen. (Rimaliza Opiña)