December 4, 2022

With a 6-4 vote, the board of directors of Benguet Electric Cooperative rejected the National Electric Administration Board of Administrators’ choice as the power utility’s next general manager.

In a special session May 19, the BOD reiterated its previous resolution endorsing Engr. Melchor Licoben, OIC general manager, as successor of the late Gerardo Verzosa.

BOD president Esteban Somngi maintains that the power to appoint a general manager is with the board. He said it is now up to the NEA to act on the BOD’s decision.

The board resolution that rejected the application of Presidential Communications Office Asec. Ana Marie Rafael will be transmitted to the NEA immediately, Somngi said.

Beneco Labor Employees Union president Jefferd Monang said they are happy with the BOD’s decision but they are still faced with uncertainty as they await NEA’s action.

He committed that until the NEA appoints the general manager of their choice, they will continue their weekly vigils in support of Licoben.

The BOD convened a special session on May 19, instead of its regular meeting on May 20 to tackle the NEA’s order for the board to act on its endorsement of Rafael five days after receipt of the order. 

The BOD started deliberating on NEA’s endorsement of Rafael at around 10 a.m. and its decision was released at around 3 p.m.

Unlike the BOD’s April 2020 unanimous endorsement of Licoben, this time only a majority of the members voted for the Beneco OIC.

Somngi said the BOD agreed not to reveal those who voted for or against the NEA endorsement to prevent the issue from being used against the directors.

He said there is nothing personal for those who changed their votes.

Media who were allowed to cover meetings of the Beneco BOD during the tenure of the late Verzosa were prevented from covering the board’s deliberations.

But Somngi has assured that the minutes of the meeting will be released to the public next week but its contents will first have to be reviewed by the BOD prior to posting. 

Rafael has dec-lined to comment on the BOD’s latest decision.

Earlier, a 72-hour restraining order issued by a Baguio court gave time for the BOD to act on the NEA BOA Resolution 2021-47 endorsing Rafael for the position of general manager.

But on May 17, the city’s Regional Trial Court Branch 6 presiding judge Michael Francisco denied the extension of the 72-hour TRO, including the writ for preliminary injunction filed by five petitioners.

In denying the petition for writ of preliminary injunction, Francisco described as mere speculation the fear of the petitioners that the Beneco BoD might act favorably on the NEA BOA resolution.

The court also informed the petitioners they can seek relief such as a motion for reconsideration before the NEA, or an appeal to the Office of the President if they disagree with the future actions of the NEA BOA.

Meanwhile, the controversy has reached the attention of the so-called “power bloc” of the House of Representatives.

Reps. Presley C. De Jesus, Sergio C. Dagooc, Godofredo N.Guya, and Adriano E. Ebcas have urged the Committee on Energy for a probe on the manner the NEA screens, selects, and appoints general managers of electric coops.

The power bloc questioned the NEA BOA for endorsing only one applicant for Beneco general manager, despite the fact that the two candidates are qualified.

In House Resolution 1776, the solons said the “NEA Board of Administrators have absolutely no power to select and appoint the GM or the power to designate a “probable appointee” for the position of general manager of Beneco.”

“The act of the NEA BOA clearly constituted ultra vires as they acted beyond the metes and bounds of their power and authority as defined by its own charter, relevant laws, and NEA issuances,” the solons said.

They added the NEA BOA’s act amounts to the usurpation of the power of electric cooperatives’ board of directors to appoint a general manager.

“The power granted to the NEA Board of Administrators by law and to its own issuances is limited only to a mere screening of the applicants for general managers of electric cooperatives and to validate if said officials possess all the qualifications required by law and none of the disqualifications, based on established guidelines.”

The tussle for Beneco general manager has stirred ECs in the country to stage protests against what they call as political meddling in the appointment of general managers for electric coops. – Jane B. Cadalig and Rimaliza A. Opiña