THERE is no avoiding the present controversy hounding one of the most accomplished and reputable electric cooperatives (EC) in the country. In the not so recent past the Benguet Electric Cooperative, Inc (BENECO) has become a byword when it comes to providing a steady supply of electricity in the homes here in Baguio and in Benguet, as well as providing illumination to the streets and parks. In other words, quality service. In fact in the just concluded 2021 Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association, Inc (PHILRECA) Awards from the Wires BENECO was a recipient of 26 awards proving its excellence as an EC in serving the public.
It is therefore disappointing to learn that in the past few weeks, the BENECO management has been embroiled in a squabble as to who should sit as General Manager of the EC. It can be recalled that on April 21, 2020 the BENECO Board appointed Engr. Melchor Licoben, then the Assistant General Manager (AGM), as the General Manager upon the retirement of the late Gerardo Versoza. However, on April 29, 2021, the Board of Administrators of the National Electrification Administration (NEA-BOA) issued Resolution No. 2021-47 endorsing Atty. Anna Maria Paz Rafael as the sole candidate for the position of General Manager of BENECO.
The BENECO Board, per NEA policy, immediately acted on the NEA-BOA resolution by rejecting the endorsement of Atty. Rafael as GM and reiterating the appointment of Engr. Licoben as GM.
In fact earlier, in Resolution No. 2020-165 dated April 28, 2020 of the BENECO Board, the NEA was already requested to confirm the appointment of Engr. Licoben as GM. But in a letter dated August 7, 2020 NEA, through its Administrator Edgardo Masongsong, informed the BENECO Board that Atty. Rafael had filed an application for the same GM position of BENECO.
With this situation, both Engr. Licoben and Atty. Rafael underwent the NEA process of screening of applicants for GMs of ECs, whether they possess all the necessary qualifications, and none of the disqualifications, required by law.
Of significance in the selection process is NEA Memorandum No. 2017-035 which informed and directed all ECs on the “Revised Police on the Selection, Hiring, Termination of Service/Suspension for General Managers of Electric Cooperatives. Part of the rationale in the issuance of the said NEA memorandum provides, “The selection, hiring, and termination of service/suspension of a GM are some of the most sensitive procedures in an EC. To promote transparency and prevent complications that may arise from the conduct of such procedures, a uniform set of standards for the selection, hiring and termination of service/suspension of a GM, to be followed by all ECs, is instituted by the NEA through this policy”.
Very clearly then, the NEA memo has set forth a uniform set of standards that must be followed by all ECs in the selection, hiring and termination of service/suspension of a GM. Augmenting this mandate are the policy statements, which among others state, that “the NEA guidelines shall specify the qualification standards for a GM xxx, the Board of Directors (BOD) of an EC shall appoint or terminate the service/suspend a GM in accordance with the guidelines set forth by the NEA.
The NEA memo then provided stringent guidelines that must be followed in the selection process and by the applicants to the position of GM of an EC. Among these are the following: applicants must pass a qualifying written examination to be administered by the NEA which shall measure, intelligence quotient, emotional quotient, computer literacy, knowledge of the industry and management perspectives; an essay examination to measure the applicant’s knowledge and capability relevant to the operation of an electricity/power industry. The pre-qualified candidates then shall undergo a personal interview before a selection committee which shall choose the best qualified applicants on the basis of scores obtained in the interview; undergo background investigation to be conducted by the NEA; submit various documents to establish their bonafide as applicants to the position of GM, and undergo a final interview before the NEA Board of Administrators.
Here is where it gets interesting. The NEA Memo provides that (h), “The list of applicants who passed the NEA Board final interview, with necessary information and results of the Background Investigation (BI), shall then be transmitted to the EC Board for perusal and selection”.
So all the applicants who pass the final interview conducted by the NEA Board should, following the guidelines set by the NEA Memo, have their names, along with the necessary information and results of the BI, transmitted to the concerned EC Board for their perusal and selection of who to appoint as GM.
Now in the NEA-BOA Resolution No. 2021-47 endorsing Atty. Rafael to the position of GM of BENECO, it was approved that the NEA-BOA will endorse the candidate/applicant with the higher score in the final interview, and since – according to one of the whereases – Engr. Licoben had an average score of only 82.75% while Atty. Rafael had an average score of 94% in the final interview, then it followed that the latter will be the only one endorsed to the BENECO Board.
Several questions immediately come to mind: Did Engr. Licoben fail the final interview conducted by the NEA-BOA? Is NEA-BOA Resolution No. 2021-47 in accordance with NEA Memorandum No. 2017-035 specifically section (h) thereof? Did the NEA-BOA resolution effectively prevent the BENECO Board from exercising its express authority to judiciously select and appoint a GM as provided in the NEA memorandum? Is the NEA-BOA Resolution an act that may be considered ultra vires or an act beyond the authority of the NEA-BOA to perform? By the approval of a board resolution to endorse only the candidate/applicant with a higher score – and not those who passed the interview – did the NEA-BOA commit an overreach by having done something more than what their authority would have allowed?
If no amicable settlement or solution is reached on the matter then perhaps the courts should be allowed to step in if only to resolve the issue as to whether BENECO should have a GM in the person of Atty. Rafael or retain the rose-from-the-ranks guy who, according to the result of the Emotional Quotient (EQ) Test that he took at the UP College of Psychology – part of the NEA administered written examination – was recommended for appointment as GM.