Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima urged Congress to investigate the recently reported takeover of the Benguet Electric Cooperative (BENECO) by the National Electrification Administration (NEA) with the assistance of heavily armed police officers.
De Lima, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, filed Proposed Senate Resolution (SR) No. 937 seeking to determine whether the force and intrusion carried out by the police in the BENECO takeover is upon lawful order.
“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,” she 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,” she added.
Based on media reports, at the behest of the NEA, about 50 policemen deployed by the Cordillera Police Office at Camp Dangwa in Benguet province last Oct. 18 allegedly broke into the offices of BENECO along Baguio’s South Drive to allow lawyer Omar Mayo, a NEA-appointed caretaker, to assume control over one of the country’s top-performing rural electric cooperatives.
The takeover also reportedly allowed lawyer Ana Maria Paz Rafael-Banaag to assume as the utility’s general manager despite public outcry and protests over her alleged ineligibility to run BENECO.
As a result, 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”, according to Mark Anthony Amisola, Vice President of BENECO Employees Labor Union.
While employees and member-consumer-owners (MCOs) managed to take back BENECO headquarters last Oct. 21, De Lima underscored 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.
Moreover, the lady Senator from Bicol said the police’s involvement in the takeover also casts further questions as it has become apparent that they cultivated a culture of fear among the citizenry owing to their excessive display of force, among other irregularities, in their conduct of police operations.
“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.
“Ang nakakagalit at kasuklam-suklam nga dito: Sa gitna ng pandemya, at sa panahon ng pagbangon sa katatapos lang na kalamidad, naaatim pa talaga na ipadanas sa mga nasalanta at naghihikahos ang ganitong walang pakundangang proseso para lamang mailuklok lang ang sarili sa poder,” De Lima said in a separate statement. (30)