Licoben stands firm as GM of Benguet power utility

Licoben stands firm as GM of Benguet power utility

BAGUIO CITY — Benguet Electric Cooperative (BENECO) general manager (GM) Melchor S. Licoben on Thursday gave a stern statement that he will remain in office, disregarding government appointee Marie Rafael Banaag’s acceptance of the key of responsibility when the latter took her oath.

Licoben maintained that the authority to appoint a GM lies on the electric cooperative’s Board of Directors (BOD), not on the National Electrification Administration (NEA).

Licoben also said that business operations of the power utility will not be disrupted.

“Business will go on as usual in BENECO,” Licoben said.

Earlier on Thursday, a group of member-consumer-owners (MCOs) and supporters of the power utility led by ECMCO United chairperson Mia Magdalena F. Longid staged a protest outside the last gate of the Benguet State University (BSU) in the municipality of La Trinidad, leading to the covered court where Banaag apparently were to take her oath.

Banaag took her oath the same day during an oath-taking ceremony and solidarity program officiated by NEA Administrator Emmanuel P. Juaneza, and organized outside BENECO by Banaag’s camp where only invited guests were in attendance.

Licoben said, “The event was made secret from the MCOs.”

It can be recalled that in October last year, a forceful takeover of the power utility led by NEA-appointed caretaker Omar Mayo took place but was taken back two days later by the MCOs, even prompting Banaag to leave the BENECO compound.

In a statement that followed, Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development chair Leila M. de Lima underscored the need to review the mandate of the NEA to determine whether NEA’s takeover was valid and legal under relevant Philippine laws.

“NEA’s mandate should be reviewed to ascertain whether it exceeded its authority in taking over BENECO in spite of the absence of any indication that the latter is an ailing cooperative,” de Lima said.

Senate Energy Committee chair Win Gatchalian also issued a statement urging the NEA to observe the status quo in the operations of BENECO under the leadership of Licoben, pending the resolution of cases filed before the courts including graft charges against the NEA board of administrators (BOA) for endorsing Banaag to the BENECO board of directors (BOD) as the new general manager instead of Licoben.

Gatchalian said that BENECO is known as a perfectly managed cooperative.

“The locals will always know best and the boards, whether it’s a cooperative board or Sangguniang board, they’re empowered to choose the best people for themselves. Huwag na dapat makialam ‘yung tagalabas dahil magugulo lalo eh. Hindi naman nila alam yung patakbo ng mga kooperatiba,” Gatchalian said.

(Outsiders should not meddle anymore. They have no idea how cooperatives work.)

At least seven banks have frozen BENECO’s access to its funds after they were notified by the NEA of Banaag’s appointment, as well as the suspension of the BENECO officials.

MCOs are encouraged to pay their monthly power bills and capital share contribution only at BENECO official collection centers to ensure that their payments are posted on their ledgers.

Payment of monthly power bills online via GCash is also accepted.  ###

Merriam del Rosario