Power And Water, Baguio City, Benguet, Philippine National Police, Philippines, Luzon

Power And Water, Baguio City

Employees, coop members 'take back' Beneco on 3rd day of NEA takeover

Employees and member-consumer-owners take back the Benguet Electric Cooperative headquarters on Wednesday, after a Monday takeover by National Electrification Administration officials

10/20/2021 6:18:00 AM

Employees and member-consumer-owners took back the Beneco headquarters on Wednesday morning, October 20, three days after NEA officials and appointees staged a pre-dawn takeover with the help of armed police forces.

Employees and member-consumer-owners take back the Benguet Electric Cooperative headquarters on Wednesday, after a Monday takeover by National Electrification Administration officials

Sherwin de VeraEmployees and member-consumer-owners (MCOs) took back the Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) headquarters on Wednesday morning, October 20, three days after National Electrification Administration (NEA) officials and appointees staged a pre-dawn takeover with the help of armed police forces.

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NEA-appointed general manager, lawyer Ana Maria Rafael, left the Beneco compound at around 9:48 am after Beneco employees marched from Baguio City's central business district to their main office on South Drive.Bystanders along the march route raised their fists and cheered the protesters. Vehicles plying the roads also honked their horns in support of the employees.

MCOs waiting at the headquarters welcomed the employees with cheers and beating gongs as around 100 police officers stood on alert.After negotiations with Baguio City Police Chief Glenn Lonogan, the protesting employees and MCOs entered the Beneco compound and office at 8:45 am. headtopics.com

Immediately, NEA Project Supervisor Omar Mayo left the premises.MCOs and employee representatives have asked police to leave and allow conditions to normalize in the power coop compound. Lonogan said there were around 500 protesters while organizers gave a 1,000-person estimate of the crowd. As of 10 am, Lonogan remained inside the Beneco offices to supervise the police presence.

The protesters immediately started a program, by reading a General Assembly resolution rejecting NEA's appointment of Rafael as general manager and the suspension of several members of the Beneco board.As of this writing, more protesters were joining the group. Neither Mayo nor Rafael spoke with reporters covering the event. Lonogan also left immediately. Rappler is trying to reach the NEA camp and will update as they respond.

The dawnof the Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) by the National Electrification Commission (NEA) and Police Regional Office troops on October 18 received widespread condemnation from the Baguio and Benguet communities, including from the leader of the Diocese of Baguio.

“I am issuing thisstatementas a concerned citizen and resident of Baguio. Together with the Member-Consumer-Owners (MCOs) of BENECO and other households and residents of Baguio and Benguet, I have been alarmed with what is happening in the BENECO,” said Catholic Bishop Victor Bendico of the Baguio Diocese. headtopics.com

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The bishop also expressed disappointment over the NEA's barring of employees after the takeover. He warned the move could hamper rehabilitation efforts after typhoon Maring ravaged Baguio and Benguet.“It has disrupted many activities and undertakings, from great projects of government workers and leaders to the smallest efforts of simple citizens and students that entail electricity,” the head of the Baguio diocese said.

“Along with others, we also denounce the ‘forceful takeover of the offices’ of BENECO. I expect respect, and civility, and refined manners in addressing concerns that beset us,” Bendico said.The Diocese of Baguio with the League of Associations at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Areas Inc. held a 6:30 pm prayer vigil on Tuesday at the La Trinidad Trading Post. The participants also expressed support to the employees and the suspended Beneco officials.

Mayo and Rafael took over the Beneco headquares around 3 am on Monday, October 18, escorted by around 50 fully armed members of the Police Regional Office Cordillera.Mayo explained that the NEA deputized the PNP to implement a suspension order against seven Beneco board of directors and their appointed general manager, engineer Melchor Licoben. NEA ordered the police “to employ all necessary steps” to prevent the suspended Beneco officials from exercising authority.

The police have stayed in the area since the NEA takeover.The combat-like operation to take control of the civilian electric utility facility caused alarm and frightened employees. Those inside, when the police over-run the building, left their stations when other Beneco officials arrived. The other workers opted not to report and joined the sit-down protest. headtopics.com

Footages of the incident quickly circulated in social media, prompting MCOs to rush to the area for an impromptu protest against the forcible takeover of NEA and Rafael.Armed, militaristSeveral members of the Baguio community called the incident an “armed” and “militarist” action.

Garcia’s Premium Coffeethe incident, calling it “illegal and militarist.” The shop owners also expressed solidarity with Beneco and support to Licoben. The establishment is one of the oldest coffee stores in the city.Meanwhile, Baguio multisectoral group Tongtongan ti Umili (TTU)

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the Beneco seizure as “NEA-instigated, Malacañang-backed, and PROCOR-NBI-protected break in.” They also denounced the “armed takeover” of the facility.TTU said NEA and Rafael’s “tyrannical exercise of power” obviously received blessings from the Duterte administration.

“We have seen attempts like this done by forces of the Duterte regime, who resorted to force and power when they can’t get what they want,” the statement said.“Tongtongan ti Umili strongly regards these developments as a strong insult to the members-consumers-owners (MCOs) of BENECO, especially when we are all trying to recover from disaster. Moreover, the actions of Rafael and NEA spit blatantly on our legal processes, disrespecting the cases filed in court,” the statement said.

'PNP acted like private armies'TTU also condemned PROCOR for allowing the use of police officers in a hostile takeover of a public utility."This is but another proof that they are no longer reflections of their credo ‘to serve and protect,’ especially when they act as private armies of the corrupt and power-hungry," the group stated.

Philreca alsolambastedthe PNP “for allowing the agency to be used in an illegal act and protecting only the one-sided interest” of Rafael’s camp. The electric coop alliance accused the police of “blindly following the orders from its chain of command instead of protecting the interest of the member-consumer-owners and maintaining neutrality.”

"At this point, the police (have) no personality in what is happening in BENECO, a private company. They do not have any authority to be in the premises. If any, they are supposed to be there only to maintain neutrality and ensure peace and order," the group said.

"NEA may have the power to deputize law enforcement to enforce a decision in the exercise of its adjudicating powers, but this is not a case of adjudication," Philreca added.Members of the House of Representatives power bloc haveaskedInterior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año and PNP Chief Guillermo Eleazar, and the entire police leadership to intervene on this issue.

In a letter addressed to Año and Eleazar, the congressmen said the Beneco office is “being treated as if a military camp.” They questioned the continuing presence of the PNP since it had already fulfilled the NEA order.Local officials take action

Officials from Baguio City and Benguet immediately took steps to express concern and dismay over the incident.Benguet Provincial Board membersregarding the Beneco issue. On top of these is the declaration of Rafael as persona non grata in Benguet authored by Juan Nazarro, Jr. The body will discuss the resolutions on Oct. 25, their next regular session.

Read more: Rappler »

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