March 1, 2024

Two controversial topics that somehow diverted the attention or gave respite to Baguio folk from their Covid-19 saturated minds are the appointment of a general manager of the Benguet Electric Cooperative and the proposal of RCC Global Entertainment to operate electronic and traditional bingo and other games authorized by Pagcor.
We shall discuss for now the issue on the appointment of the Beneco general manager which in the past, before GM Gerry (Verzosa) took over, drew scant attention of the Beneco board of directors, its employees, the customers and now, even the city council which is conducting an investigation, “in aid of legislation” on the choice of the National Electrification Administration to be the next general manager.
The position of general manager has become a much coveted one because Beneco is now one of the top electric cooperatives, if not the top one, in the country. It is reported that the salary and benefits of the general manager is more than that of a regional trial court judge. The status of Beneco as a top electric cooperative is attributed to its former general manager, Gerry, who was the longest serving manager for 32 years. Several innovations in all aspects of its operations were mostly his ideas that were introduced and easily passed by the Beneco directors. In fact, the position of an assistant general manager was his idea.
He placed Engr. Melchor Licoben, who had been with him for 30 years, as his assistant. GM Gerry, as he was fondly called, is beloved by the employees who benefitted from gene-rous salary increases, bonuses, and housing projects of the cooperative. Beneco directors receive hefty honoraria or was it called per diem or both? They could avail of vehicles for their use and each have an annual P1 million funds for “corporate social responsibility” for their respective districts.
The directors of the board are elected for a two-year term in the districts where they reside and are members of. They can also be reelected. Also, former GM Gerry dispensed favors to city officials for their mobility needs and could directly call on him for other concerns on Beneco services, which he could promptly address and at his disposal.
In all his dealings with the employees, board of directors, government officials and private corporations and entities, GM Gerry was engaging and showed his political tact in getting a positive response from them. It is, therefore, no surprise that his protégé to become his successor, Licoben was well-received by the employees, board of directors, the city officials and, maybe even some media outifts with whom GM Gerry had a very good rapport.
Being with Beneco for some three decades, Licoben knew the ins and outs of the operations including, perhaps, his learnings from GM Gerry on how to deal with the political side of the cooperative operations, not to mention the business aspects. It is, therefore, understandable that these sectors are defending him from the supposed incursion by an “outsider” who could possibly alter the status quo in the operations. Perhaps, with GM Gerry’s protégé at the helm, they can rest easy on their present comfortable state anticipating that the good engineer has learned much experience under the more than three decades of GM Gerry’s watch.
The “outsider” who was favorably endorsed by the NEA as GM Gerry’s successor is Atty. Ana Maria Rafael. She was a former mayor who is supposedly being supported by a political power close to Malacañang. It will be recalled that GM Gerry was also a so-called “outsider” before his endorsement by the NEA where he worked after his failed bid for the vice-mayorship of a municipality in Isabela, where he was then President Corazon Aquino’s appointee. NEA assigned Gerry to monitor the operations of Beneco until his appointment as the general manager. Beneco then was not a profitable institution such that the position of general manager was not very much sought after position that would attract much interest or attention from the consumers or the media.
Citing the performance and experience of GM Gerry, there is an opinion that perhaps Rafael, although without possessing the five-year experience in an electric cooperative requirement, she can also efficiently perform the job of general manager. There is even a valid opinion that maybe an “outsider” from Beneco has a clearer view of what Beneco is now and where it should go – all for the good of the consumers. It is the sense of some consumers that the infrastructure projects of Beneco, especially the South Drive property and some land acquisitions and purchases of equipment, vehicles, office supplies, need a closer look on the cooperative’s accounting books. Beneco acquired millions in loans for infrastructure. One is told that Beneco relies on its capability to efficiently collect payments from its consumers and there is an impending move to raise the power costs. In other words, the Beneco members are paying for these projects. The question then comes to mind – isn’t a cooperative supposed to exist for the members’ benefit?
In the next few days, we shall know who shall be appointed as the cooperative’s general manager. But if this controversy cannot be graciously resolved, expect the matter to land in court. We can only hope that the next general manager has the zeal and dedication to work for the interests of the member-consumers.
As to the other hot issue on gambling, let’s deal with it on the next column. (DEL CLARAVALL)