BAGUIO, Philippines – The National Electrification Administration (NEA) should focus on empowering electric cooperatives rather than imposing its regulatory function on them, Vice President and presidential aspirant Leni Robredo said on Monday, December 6.
Speaking on the recent controversy between NEA and the Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco), Robredo called it “an eye opener to NEA and the government as a whole that the ideal role of NEA is not emphasized on its regulatory functions.”
In a press conference at the Centennial Hall of the University of Baguio, Robredo said the problem was due to NEA’s failure to follow the guidelines in choosing the general manager for Beneco.
“The problem brings us to the question of what role should NEA play in so far as the electric cooperatives and the rights of the member-consumers are concerned…. The board has the right to appoint [the GM]. NEA’s role is to ensure [that the applicants are] qualified,” she said.
The power struggle at Beneco stemmed from NEA’s appointment of former Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Ana Maria Banaag as assistant manager despite questions on her qualifications. The Beneco board of directors rejected her designation and hired its long-time assistant general manager and officer-in-charge, engineer Melchor Licoben for the position.
The Vice President lauded Beneco members for their vigilance and their “remarkable job in protecting the rights of the MCOs.”
NEA lawyer and appointed Beneco Project Supervisor Omar Mayo caused an uproar among Baguio and Benguet residents and officials when he forcibly took over the Beneco headquarters on October 18 with the help of fully armed personnel from the Police Regional Office Cordillera.
MCOs (or member-consumer-owners) and employees of Beneco regained control of the office on October 20 through a local “people power” attended by more than 1,000 individuals.
“NEA, forcing its wishes [on Beneco] will not help the member-consumers, that is why we should congratulate the member-consumers for not remaining silent, for asserting their voice,” she added.
The incident also prompted local governments to take measures against NEA officials and Banaag. The Baguio city council on October 25 declared Mayo persona non grata. The provincial board of Benguet followed with a similar resolution on November 3. On November 8, Benguet legislators also declared Banaag unwelcome in the province.
Beneco board chairperson Esteban Somngi welcomed the Vice President’s insight on the problem. He cited NEA Memorandum 2017-35, which contains the guidelines and selection process for general managers for electric cooperatives.
The Beneco chair said there were 200 resolutions and endorsements from local government units in Baguio-Benguet, civic and business organizations, and the church, all supporting the appointment of Licoben as general manager.
“We cannot just ignore that support from the people of Baguio and Benguet. That also influenced us to decide on who to appoint as the next general manager because the people have already spoken who they want,” he added. – Rappler.com
Sherwin de Vera is a Luzon-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.