Licoben appointed Beneco general manager; NEA recommendation okayed

>> Sunday, November 12, 2023

 After 3-year turmoil in power coop 

By Laarni Sibayan Ilagan

BAGUIO CITY -- Barely a day after his appointment as general manager of the Benguet Electric Cooperative, Melchor Licoben saw it fit to reiterate his first order of business -- renewal of the electric cooperative’s franchise.
    “My appointment is just the beginning. We still have so much to do. We still have to secure our existence for the next 50 years,” Licoben told employees in his message of gratitude on Nov. 8, a day after the Beneco task force passed a resolution naming him the official GM of the electric cooperative.
    Beneco’s franchise ends on March, 2028. Baguio Rep. Mark Go has filed House Bill 6145 that seeks to renew the franchise.
    On Nov. 6, the National Electrification Administration, through administrator Antonio Mariano Almeda, wrote the task force that Licoben, an engineer, passed the qualifications and is recommended to be the GM.
    Steve Cating, task force chair, said that there were no other candidates who were qualified and so Licoben was NEA’s number one choice.
    NEA held the vetting of the applicants but under the rules, it is the cooperative’s board of directors that has the power to appoint a GM from the list of qualified candidates screened by NEA.
    The task force was granted the authority to name the GM.
    Once NEA confirms the appointment, Licoben, 55, will formally assume his functions.
    Licoben has been with Beneco for 32 years, starting as a casual employee in April, 1991.
    Employees hailed Licoben’s appointment and passed a resolution thanking the task force and NEA.
    “We are very happy that finally, our fight for what is right came through,” Jefferd Monang, employee union president, said.
    Licoben’s appointment ended almost three years of struggle with NEA and lawyer Ana Marie Rafael, former Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) assistant secretary who earlier applied for the position.
    The former board of directors appointed Licoben as GM in 2020 but the NEA appointed Rafael instead.
    The move triggered a dispute between NEA and Rafael on one hand and the employees and member-consumers-owners on the other.
    Licoben and employees accused NEA of violating the rules on GM recruitment when it only endorsed Rafael as the GM despite her and Licoben passing the final interview.
    Employees and consumers then refused to recognize Rafael as the GM and held daily protests and vigils to express their objection to NEA’s decision.
    On Oct. 20, 2021, armed and uniformed police installed Rafael as the GM inside the Beneco headquarters, now known as the Gerardo P. Verzosa building.
    Two days after, the employees and MCOs stormed South Drive and retook the headquarters.
    NEA fired the former board of directors in January this year and suspended Licoben for 45 days.
    The task force that was formed to replace the former directors declared the GM position vacant.


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