June 21, 2024

The leadership crisis at Benguet Electric Cooperative continues to bring anxiety and confusion among members and consumers of one of the country’s most outstanding distribution utilities.
On March 3, Beneco members and consumers trooped and held a peaceful protest outside Benguet State University in La Trinidad, Benguet to rally behind Engr. Melchor Licoben, who was appointed by the Board of Directors as general manager.
At the time, Atty. Ana Maria Paz Rafael accepted the turnover of responsibility from the National Electrification Administration as general manager during ceremonies held at BSU closed gym.
Beneco member-consumers, who organized and registered themselves into the Electric Cooperative Members Consumers and Owners United led by its chairperson Mia Fokno, have asserted their recognition of Licoben as the legitimate Beneco general manager and protested the ceremonies held at BSU closed gym.
Fokno said the member-consumers were barred from entering the BSU compound by those guarding the gates despite having a permit to peaceably assemble with regards their concerns. 
She said upon their arrival at the BSU last gate, they found it chained, but they spread themselves to the other access points of BSU to continue their rally.
Some BSU employees also reportedly found difficulty entering the school premises and some members of the press were also denied access into the area.
The member-consumers said they are against Rafael’s appointment due to her lack of qualifications based on Republic Act 10531 and NEA Memorandum 2017-35.
They stressed their call for the NEA Board of Administrators to follow the law and its own rules.
“This is an electric cooperative. The supreme power lies with the MCOs and through our BOD, we have already chosen who our general manager is and he is the only one we recognize,” Fokno said.
In a press conference called on the same day, Licoben said as far as they are concerned, the issue on the Beneco general manager is pending in courts, and the cooperative continues to operate as usual, serving its more than 200,000 accounts.
He added the event at BSU is a big question, claiming it has been kept secret from the member-consumers.
He said Beneco had already organized member-consumers at the South Drive headquarters, and who would be the members of that member-consumers organization is also questionable.
Licoben said they will study their legal options about the activity of the other camp, but he reminded the House of Representatives has passed a resolution telling NEA to observe status quo pending the resolution of the issue on Beneco’s general manager post at the Court of Appeals, but which he said is repeatedly being defied. 
Meanwhile, the camp of Rafael released handout photos of her supposed acceptance of responsibility as Beneco general manager from NEA Administrator Emmanuel Juaneza. The turnover and acceptance rites were witnessed also by Atty. Gauttier Dupaya, the newly-designed NEA project supervisor for Beneco.
 Lawyer Lourdes Maita Andres, the spokesman of the camp of Rafael, has also confirmed the holding of mass oath taking program for new Beneco member-consumers and solidarity event at BSU closed gym.
Andres said those who underwent the oath taking ceremony are the volunteers consisting of the member-consumers who will be their members at the barangay-level. 
“They will participate in our programs and activities at Beneco and they are supportive of the administration of general manager Marie Rafael,” Andres said.
She said the newly-formed group, member-consumer-owners program for empowerment or MCOPE is well-represented per barangay where the barangays consisting of 11 districts are consolidated under one district.
As for the status of the cooperative registration of the NEA-appointed Beneco camp, Andres said it is pending and has yet to comply with some requirements set by the Cooperative Development Authority.
She explained the camp of Rafael must properly go through the requirements set by the CDA.
“We cannot just haphazardly fill in whatever is lacking. Una, kailangan legitimate tayo. Panga-lawa, kailangan we are recognized by our regulatory agencies from the national government so that everything we do will be legitimized,” she said. – Hanna C. Lacsamana and Ofelia C. Empian