December 10, 2022

Can the Benguet Electric Cooperative have two general managers? Who among the two appointees is legitimate?
The ongoing tussle for leadership at Beneco – a multi-awarded and among the model ECs nationwide in terms of efficiency and performance – has given rise to heated debates between opposing parties and their respective counsels, discussions among legal practitioners, and confusion among member-consumers.
The situation stemmed from the appointments of two applicants for the Beneco general manager post, one by the Beneco Board of Directors which appointed Engr. Melchor Licoben, and another by the National Electrification Administration Board of Administrators, which has supervisory power over the 121 ECs in the country, and which appointed Atty. Ana Maria Paz Rafael.
Both insist on being the rightful person for the post. Both are also using the law to back their claim.
With the stalemate, Baguio and Benguet leaders and stakeholders have called for public interest to prevail.
City Mayor Benjamin Magalong appealed to the concerned parties to respect the status quo called by the House Committee on Energy, which is currently reviewing the procedures that have led to the impasse.
“Let us all respect the status while issues are being threshed out by the proper oversight authorities. For the sake of its employees who are facing uncertain times, and for its many consumers, I appeal to the opposing personalities involved to put public interest first, and ensure services of the cooperative are not unduly disrupted or dragged into this stalemate,” Magalong said.
From the onset, the Beneco BOD, which describes itself to be the voice being duly elected representatives of the coop’s member-consumers, has insisted on its authority to hire a general manager of its choice pursuant to its own guidelines and in compliance with the rules prescribed by NEA in Memorandum 2017-035.
Atty. Delmar Cariño, Beneco legal counsel and Institutional Services Department manager, said if only the NEA BOA implemented in the strictest sense the rule of law, the situation should have not gone this far.
“Until now I cannot reconcile why they mangled this law. If we look at the NEA resolution that appointed Atty. Rafael, they cannot cite any expeditious or justifiable circumstances why they set aside and rejected the qualification requirement in the memo. What kind of government do we have? Are these people, who are bound to impose the law, will be the one to violate (it) themselves?” Cariño said.
He added when the House Committee on Energy issued a status quo order, they thought as a matter of legislative courtesy the NEA will follow the status quo but they later learned that at the moment the hearing was being held, there was already an order to implement the decision, which he said “is a blatant and manifest display of arrogance and abuse of discretion.”
Atty. Rocky Thomas Balisong, one of Rafael’s lawyers, said Rafael’s appointment is legitimate and that Beneco has only one general manager and that is Rafael.
In her letter to Beneco BOD President Atty. Esteban Somngi responding about having no personality to perform official acts as a manager, she said she has the official appointment from the NEA BOA under RB2-2021-71 accompanied by a letter from OIC NEA Administrator Susan San Diego which Somngi received last week.
“My legal personality, therefore, is loud and clear as the same is anchored on the documents you acknowledged to have received. I am confident that as the BOD president and a fellow lawyer, you have read the documents pertaining to my appointment which need no further explanation as it speaks for itself,” Rafael said.
In a press conference on Sept. 2, lawyers also speaking in their capacity as Beneco member-consumers shared their views on the issue.
Former city councilor Jose Molintas said the member-consumers have spoken their decision through the Beneco BOD and that should be respected. “If the board has appointed somebody already, it means there is no vacancy anymore. If another appointment is passed by the NEA board to remove the incumbent manager, it will create another problem where the consumer-members are the ones to suffer,” he said.
He said as the issue divided the board and the member-consumers, it is high time for Baguio and Benguet to show unity in resolving their own problem by becoming a genuine cooperative, one that has autonomy by converting and being registered with the Cooperative Development Authority.
Another lawyer, George Dumawing, who filed the first case for a petition for certiorari regarding the Beneco controversy pending before the Baguio Regional Trial Court Branch 6, said this is not the first time there was an attempt to take over Beneco from an entity who might have seen the potential of controlling the power industry.
He asked stakeholders to be careful because the current struggle might be related to the past attempts, claiming those interested might be as determined as they were years ago.
“We are the ones in here, from birth to death. To those with interests from other camps, what do they care about us? They are just here for the profit, so mag-ingat po tayo. We might not realize what we believe so much is actually wrong,” Dumawing said.
Heartbroken by the way events unfolded in the past days where respect and professionalism among lawyers seemed to have degenerated, Dumawing also called on fellow lawyers to be responsible, mature, and professional, in reference to the “Empleyado ka laeng” uttered by one of the lawyers involved in the issue.
“Lawyers have a big responsibility in the community. Whatever we say, right or wrong, is given credibility by the listeners. Some of my colleagues might have exceeded their enthusiasm. Having any insight is normal, we are in democracy but I enjoin that let’s respect each other. Let us not unnecessarily aggravate the situation,” Dumawing appealed.
Atty. Rene Cortez has suggested for the Beneco BOD to do away with the current situation by declaring a vacancy in the position of general manager and follow the selection rules and guidelines.
Atty. Alan Mazo invoked respect for local dynamics. “After all, it is the member-consumers who are directly affected by the controversy and following recent developments, the appointment made by the BOD is an indirect appointment by the consumer-members themselves because the BOD is their representative. That to me is in consonance with the Cooperative Code, which means autonomy, independence, and subsidiarity,” Mazo said.
Former prosecutor Elmer Sagsago suggested letting Rafael and Licoben co-sign without prejudice to pending cases. He said this way, Beneco can move forward.
In the end, while member-consumers have to contend with having two individuals claiming being the legitimately appointed, the lawyers said there could only be one general manager, and the question on legitimacy could be left to the courts to decide, to members-consumers for them to act, or for NEA to stand firm on its appointed official. – Hanna C. Lacsamana