December 2, 2022

Members and other consumers of Benguet Electric Cooperative started keeping vigil at Beneco’s main office along South Drive on Oct. 21, a day after the peaceful gathering that allowed employees to go back to work.

The vigil is intended to avoid a repeat of the much-criticized entry of lawyers Omar Mayo from the National Electrification Administration and Marie Rafael, who was appointed by the NEA Board of Administrators as general manager, to the Beneco offices in the wee hours of Oct. 18 that disrupted the utility’s operations.

Mayo was designated as Beneco’s project supervisor after the Beneco board of directors refused to honor the appointment of Rafael.

Mayo and Rafael’s entry to the Beneco offices, with personnel of the Philippine National Police as escorts, earned criticisms from member-consumers, local officials, businessmen, and other stakeholders who described it as a forceful takeover.

The NEA-BOA deputized the PNP to help ensure peace and order and make sure that Beneco general manager Melchor Licoben and the seven board of directors whom NEA suspended would not be able to enter the premises of Beneco.

It was not clear, however, if the PNP personnel deployed to bar Licoben and the seven directors from entering the Beneco offices fully recognize them, as some rank and file who were reporting that day were also prevented entry. Why the takeover had to be done in the wee hours was not also given a clear explanation.

Beneco Labor Employees Union vice president Mark Anthony Amisola said the Oct. 18 NEA takeover left them confused on whose order should they follow, which is why they opted to leave the premises of Beneco and proceeded to the Athletic Bowl at Burnham Park.

He said aside from the shock of seeing PNP personnel in anti-riot gear, Amisola said they did not want to be charged with insubordination if they do not follow the orders of Rafael on one hand, and Licoben on the other hand.

He added they already received earlier summons from NEA and the four Beneco directors, who sided with the regulatory body, to explain why they should not be charged for insubordination.

Normal operations started afternoon of Oct. 20, when employees returned to their offices following a peaceful gathering initiated by member-consumers and other stakeholders to take back the Beneco offices from NEA.

Mayo and Rafael were no longer in the premises when the throng of member-consumers and Beneco supporters who initiated the “Occupy Beneco” protest to resent NEA’s takeover arrived at South Drive.

In an interview over a local radio station, Rafael said she had no ill intention in coming to Beneco to work as the distribution utility’s general manager.

Various sectors expressed concern on the manner NEA took over Beneco offices and expressed hope the ruckus will be settled peacefully.

In a statement, Diocese of Baguio Bishop Victor Bendico asked for sobriety and control of emotions among parties.

“Along with others, we also denounce the ‘forceful takeover of the offices’ of Beneco. I expect respect, and civility, and refined manners in addressing concerns that beset us,” the statement reads.

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry-Baguio Benguet said use of force and intimidation will result in more problems, than solution in dealing with Beneco’s leadership row.

Mayor Benjamin Magalong said it is best to maintain status quo while parties await the decision of the Court of Appeals on the case filed by Licoben that questions Rafael’s qualifications.

Rep. Mark Go, in a statement, expressed hope the conflict besetting Beneco’s leadership will be settled in “a peaceful and amicable manner as long as the parties are willing.” – Jane B. Cadalig