NEA ousts Noceco executives over funds mismanagement

By Dolly Yasa

BACOLOD CITY — National Electrification Administrator Antonio Mariano Almeda announced Tuesday the board of administrators’ decision to remove two former general managers and several board members from the Negros Occidental Electric Cooperative (Noceco) due to improper fund disbursement.

Following an audit, they face penalties including removal, disqualification from reinstatement or running for director positions in any electric cooperative, and forfeiture of benefits.

The ousted Noceco officials include ex-general managers Engr. Jonas Discaya and Engr. Ray Bustamante, along with board members Richard Benedicto, Raymundo Tongson Jr., Reynaldo Bedaure Jr., Eduardo Benjamin Alonso, Rolito Espinosa, John Peter Millan, Elbert Magbato, Rey Ronald Cabalde, Edmund Arceo, Ma. Rama Espinosa, Allan Paul Mirasol, and the late Jose Emeric Jabagat.

On April 18, 2024, the NEA board reached its verdict after the agency’s Electric Cooperative Audit Department conducted a comprehensive Operations Audit of Noceco’s activities from August 1, 2019, to April 30, 2023. This audit unveiled unauthorized disbursements breaching NEA’s Rules and Guidelines, lacking necessary approvals, and persisting despite prior warnings.

The NEA’s Administrative Committee launched a Motu Propio investigation, adhering to due process. The inquiry revealed that Discaya and Bustamante participated in the unauthorized disbursements.

Notably, the board directors were found to have improperly awarded themselves ₱65,534,504.20 in various allowances and benefits.

Discaya received ₱20,128,907.28, including unjust salary increases, while Bustamante received at least ₱2,127,111 in increased compensation as the incoming general manager.

Almeda emphasized NEA’s jurisdiction over electric cooperatives under Republic Act 10531, a mandate upheld by the Supreme Court. He criticized the board’s intent to appoint Bustamante as general manager, which flouted NEA regulations.

Although Bustamante had engaged in NEA-led educational programs, he, along with the board, continued to ignore specific rules regarding financial compensation.

Despite certain compliances, Bustamante failed to challenge Noceco’s policy deviations, directly benefitting from the irregular salary and benefits structure.

Almeda confirmed that Noceco leads the list of cooperatives involved in such improprieties and warned other cooperatives’ executives against similar misconduct.

Urging consumer-members’ vigilance, Almeda appointed Domingo Santiago Jr. as Noceco’s acting general manager until a permanent successor is named.

Domingo Santiago Jr. has been appointed acting general manager of Noceco until a permanent replacement is found.