December 4, 2022

The issue on the hiring of a new general manager of the Benguet Electric Cooperative has become a public concern that even the city council of Baguio passed two resolutions asking the National Electrification Administration (NEA) to furnish them with documents related to the applications of Engr. Melchor Licoben and lawyer Ana Maria Paz Rafael.

Documents asked from the NEA were documents containing the results of examinations, background investigations, and interviews on Licoben and Rafael.

Citing NEA Memorandum 2017-35, the city council said NEA has violated its own hiring process when its Board of Administrators endorsed Rafael to the Beneco board of directors on the basis of obtaining the highest score in the interview alone.

Based on the statement of NEA Selection Committee Chair Nollie Alamillo, Licoben and Rafael passed the qualifying examinations, initial interview, background investigation, and both have advanced in the final interview.

However, he admitted that one of the applicants did not submit documents indicating a five-year work experience in the management of an electric utility-related business and the Beneco BOD was not furnished credentials of the applicants which would have been its basis in the selection of applicants.

The council said since both applicants are qualified, the BoA should have endorsed Rafael and Licoben to the Beneco BOD.

Aside from the city council, the “power bloc” at the House of Representatives passed Resolution 1776 urging the Committee on Energy to investigate the manner the NEA screens, selects, and appoints general managers of electric coops.

But the National Association of Electricity Consumers for Reform Inc. (Nasecore) opposed the proposal to conduct an inquiry.

In a letter to Energy Committee chair Juan Miguel Arroyo, Nasecore Executive Director Rafael Antonio Acebedo said the inquiry is a threat to the independence of the NEA being the overseer of electric cooperatives in the country. He added the inquiry is for the power bloc’s personal interests, not for the consumers.

Acebedo said sponsors of Resolution 1776 have conflict of interest as they happen to be party-list representatives whose members are officers or directors of electric cooperatives.

APEC Rep. Sergio Dagooc and Philreca Rep. Presley de Jesus have pending cases before the Ombudsman for violating laws prohibiting elective officials from holding private employment and private interests in companies in conflict with their duties.

Meanwhile, Rafael, in an interview with the Courier, said she respects the decision of the city council. She said it is up to the NEA BOA to decide if it will furnish the council documents they requested.

Currently employed as assistant secretary of the Presidential Communications Office, Rafael is being alleged of using her connections with the highest official of the land to back her in her application. Lately, a letter addressed to President Rodrigo Dutere dated June 30, 2020 bearing the letterhead of the PCOO circulated online.

The letter signed by Rafael sought the President’s endorsement through the NEA of her application to the Beneco. 

Rafael has confirmed seeking the President’s endorsement but said asking for an endorsement may be done by anyone.

“Anybody can write the President and ask for an endorsement. He happens to be my employer so I sought his endorsement,” Rafael told the Courier.

She said despite this, she underwent the hiring process.

“Last year pa ‘yang sulat. Kung endorsement lang basehan sana ako na ang nakaupo ngayon. Sa mga naging posisyon ko sa gobyerno I submitted myself to the process,” Rafael added.

She also denied non-submission of papers regarding her five-year experience. “I submitted what was asked of me. Otherwise, I should have been told that something was missing (in my portfolio). I cannot qualify or disqualify myself.”

She added a five-year experience is not the only criteria. “I went through the stages of selection and hiring at wala namang sinabi na disqualified ako o may kulang.”

Rafael said her experience in various positions in government plus two post-graduate degrees and her publication of a module on corruption prevention for indigenous peoples make up for the questioned lack of technical skills.

“There is such thing as equivalency. It’s their interpretation that I lack competence. Know me first before they judge me,” Rafael said.

The hiring issue has reached a point where parties depending on whose side they are in, have accused the applicants of wrongdoing. 

Rafael appealed to those interested in the issue to stop fighting. “Huwag mag-away-away. Hayaan natin ang proseso.”

In a Facebook post, Licoben lamented the circulation of malicious posts about him, the Beneco BoD and the management on social media.

He also appealed to the people behind the spread of these issues to stop maligning his reputation and the Beneco as an institution.

“I and my family are humbled by the outpouring of support, encouragement prayers of member-consumers, owners, stakeholders, family, friends, local government units, and even people we do not personally know. Despite the virulent attacks, I shall remain steadfast in my commitment to serve our community,” Licoben said. – Rimaliza A. Opiña