Employees of Benguet Electric Cooperative, Inc. (BENECO) were barred from work after their heavily-criticized new leadership allegedly took over by force the electric cooperative facility in the wee hours of Monday.
Photos and videos shared by BENECO and BENECO Employees Union (BELU) on their Facebook pages showed several armed police and military personnel roaming around the BENECO office, breaking the locks, barricading the building and confiscating several items at around 3 a.m.
"ATM (at the moment). Sinisira na po nila ang lock sa NSD office (they're already breaking the locks of the Network Services Department office)," the union said in a Facebook post.
"Employees were not allowed to enter," it added in a later Facebook post.
Cordillera People's Alliance Tongtongan ti Umili condemned the incident, which they compared to "a thief in the night" when "BENECO’s workers and employees are spread all over Benguet striving to restore power in remote places, and responding to the disaster left by severe tropical storm Maring."
This came as BENECO employees and its board of directors opposed the alleged illegal appointment by National Electrification Administration (NEA) of former Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Assistant Secretary Anna Marie Rafael as BENECO's general manager to replace Melchor Licoben.
In a letter dated Sep. 28, 2021 of BENECO Board President Lawyer Esteban Somngi to NEA Usec. Emmanuel Juaneza, the electric cooperative was firm to believe that "NEA has no authority to appoint Atty. Rafael" in the position. They said BENECO only has the authority to select its own managers based on NEA-approved guidelines and wanted to retain Licoben, who was also the cooperative's former assistant general manager and was groomed for the top post, in the position.
"We are therefore opposing the appointment of a PS (preventive suspension) because it is not justified, BENECO is not ailing," he added, referring to the provision of Republic Act No. 10531 or an act strengthening NEA's power which states that, “The NEA shall, in the exercise of its step-in rights under this Act, strictly observe due process of law. The step-in rights may only be exercised by the NEA in case of failure of the electric cooperative to meet operational and financial standards set by the NEA."
As such, BENECO issued an advisory to its member-consumer-owners (MCOs) that repairs on electric lines affected by Maring "today and quite possibly in the next few days may be delayed due to the forceful takeover of our offices."
On the other hand, Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong also "denounced the forcible takeover of the leadership of BENECO," said the city's public information office.
"It is unfortunate that BENECO is being dragged into a leadership crisis by some quarters at the time when it was able to reach the highest pedestal of the country’s power industry," Magalong said in a statement.
"And its general manager Engr. Melchor Licoben has proven his competence and efficiency," he added.
According to Magalong, Licoben "has had no integrity issue whatsover" so "why fix something that is not broken?"
"And at this time when we are confronted with numerous problems aggravated by the damages wrought by the recent typhoon? Why?" he added, "No one can manage BENECO better than GM Mel. We are here to support you come hell or high water."