February 1, 2023
REVAMPED AT BENECO — National Electrification Administration Administrator Antonio Mariano Almeda, who is also the project supervisor of Benguet Electric Cooperative, administered the oath of the members of Task Force Beneco on Jan. 11 after services of the 11 board of directors were terminated. The interim BOD members are Steve Cating, George Dumawing, Rodolfo de Guia, Elma Donaal, and Joaquin Depalog, Jr. NEA also recalled its appointment of Marie Rafael as general manager while BOD-appointed GM Melchor Licoben was suspended for 45 days. Meanwhile, Beneco Network Services Department Manager Ramel Rifani took his oath as acting GM. — NEA/HFP

The National Electrification Administration has taken over the Benguet Electric Cooperative, an event dreaded and long-opposed by employees and other stakeholders of the electric cooperative.
The regulatory agency also created a task force to oversee Beneco’s operations, with NEA Administrator Antonio Mariano Almeda acting as project supervisor (PS) and Beneco Network Services Department Manager Ramel Rifani as acting general manager.
Task Force Beneco was created after the NEA-Board of Administrators (BOA) revoked the appointment of Atty. Ana Maria Rafael and suspended for 45 days Engr. Melchor Licoben, who has been asserting their right to Beneco’s top post.
The NEA also removed the 11 incumbent board of directors (BOD) of Beneco. Those removed are Esteban A. Somngi, Rocky M. Aliping, Enrique S. Moresto, Jonathan C. Obar, Robert L. Valentin, Josephine B. Tuling, Luke B. Gomeyac, Peter B. Busaing, Jeffred S. Acop, Mike W. Maspil, and James B. Aclopen.
The NEA also disqualified the directors from running for the same post and from being employed in any electric cooperative.
Upon his assumption as Beneco PS on Jan. 11, Almeda sworn into office Rifani and the five-member interim BOD, which is tasked to oversee the operations and “restore normalcy and ensure stability” in Beneco until a regular BOD is constituted.
Almeda said he hopes NEA’s recent move will bring to normal the operations of Beneco, as he asked the support of member-consumers to the development seen to address the chaos that has been besetting Beneco for over a year now.
“With these developments, I hope the stability of Beneco’s operations will be back to normal. I call on the members to support these developments as these were undertaken for their benefit,” he said.
Almeda added he will prioritize the election of regular BOD members and open the selection process for the appointment of a regular general manager within his six-month stint as PS.
The NEA-BOA in a Jan. 10 resolution revoked Rafael’s appointment as general manager, citing her failure to meet NEA’s performance standards as Beneco regressed to a category C electric cooperative from Triple A category since her assumption.
Licoben was suspended for 45 days for simple neglect of duty in relation to the audit findings on Beneco covering 2018 to 2020 that found him and other department heads liable for non-compliance with NEA issuances, particularly in the grant of benefits and allowances of officials and employees.
The NEA likewise removed from office all the Beneco BOD for their supposed defiance of NEA guidelines, such as unduly receiving benefits and allowances, availing of and mismanaging substantial loans to the detriment of Beneco, amending the terms of payment for several service providers without the required approval of NEA.
Rafael’s appointment in 2021 by the then NEA-BOA was met with opposition from Beneco employees and member-consumers who questioned her qualifications while asserting NEA does not have the authority to appoint the general manager of electric cooperatives, a function lodged with the BOD.
Licoben was appointed by the Beneco BOD, also based on a NEA-approved succession plan.
Beneco employees and member-consumers have also been opposed to NEA’s taking over of the electric cooperative, saying it is not an ailing coop and asserting Licoben’s legitimacy as general manager being the one appointed by the BOD.
Almeda said under his administration, NEA will stick to Memorandum 2017-35, which provides, among other things, that the BOD of an electric coop shall appoint, terminate the services, or suspend the general manager of an electric cooperative.
After his 45-day suspension, Almeda said Licoben will be back as an assistant general manager, a post he occupied before he was appointed by the BOD to lead Beneco.
He said Licoben can reapply as general manager of Beneco.
Atty. Rosan Rosero-Lee, NEA Deputy Administrator for Legal Services, said the agency’s actions are not meant to preempt the resolution of the case pending before the Court of Appeals that sought to resolve the Beneco leadership row.
The Beneco Employees Union said it will cooperate with NEA in pushing for Almeda’s advocacy for all electric cooperatives to enjoy good governance, normalcy, and industrial peace, but said they will stick with what is right.
“The BELU believes that Engr. Melchor S. Licoben is still our general manager. We will not give up the fight because we are fighting for what is right,” said BELU president Jefferd Monang. – Jane B. Cadalig