HOUSE Bill 6145, filed by Baguio Representative Mark Go, which seeks to grant a legislative franchise to Benguet Electric Cooperative (BENECO) has made its way through the chambers of Congress and has now received approval from the Legislative Franchises Committee chaired by Representative Gus Tambunting of Parañaque, allowing it to continue through the legislative process.
The news is the latest development in the cooperative’s continued existence. The cooperative only less than a month ago finally ended its years-long leadership crisis with the National Electrification Administration (NEA)-backed reappointment of General Manager Melchor Licoben.
Subsequently, in the approval of the Legislative Franchises Committee, the BENECO has secured a confirmation of its performance from the NEA, which is part of the process.
BENECO’s current 50 year franchise to operate as a distribution utility, which was granted in March of 1978, is set to expire in 2028.
In advance of the expiration of the franchise, Go has filed and sponsored HB 6145, an “Act Granting a Legislative Franchise to Benguet Electric Cooperative (BENECO) to Construct, Install, Establish, Operate and Maintain a Generation and Distribution System for the Conveyance of Electric Power to the End Users in All the Municipalities of the Province of Benguet and Baguio City,” alongside the Department of Energy, National Electrification Commission (NEA), Rep. Presley De Jesus of PHILRECA Partylist, and Rep. Sergio Dagooc of APEC Partylist.
“Granting a legislative franchise to BENECO will ensure the continuous supply and delivery of affordable, efficient, and safe electric power to the people of Baguio City and Benguet Province,” Go said.
Benguet Congressman Eric Yap has filed a similar bill, HB 9402, which will be consolidated with HB 6145 into a single bill.
BENECO, as of 2021, was serving nearly 220,000 accounts in Baguio and Benguet, Its performance assessments have consistently shown an above 90 percent energization level, and to date is also among the lowest power rates across various electric cooperatives in the country.
BENECO cites its bilateral power supply contract with independent power producer TeaM Energy as one of the main factors in its low power rates.
“We are very grateful to the committee members of the Legislative Franchise Committee for finally approving the proposed HB of Cong. Go together with the HB of Cong. Yap. The committee members present during the committee hearing even agreed to co-author the consolidated HB. Their co-authorship is very important because the committee approval is only the first step, our journey in getting our franchise renewal still has a long way to go. After this we still have to hurdle the plenary and eventually the senate approval,” General Manager Melchor Licoben said.
Licoben led the contingent of top BENECO Management with Task Force BENECO Interim Board, supported by the officers of the Electric Cooperative- Member Consumer Owners United (EC-MCOU) group led by its president Dane Ducayag in attending the committee hearing last Monday at the Lower House.
In anticipation of the difficult and long process, Licoben’s management team has started working on the franchise renewal as early as three years ago.
“We also need to find a champion in the Senate. Hopefully after the plenary we will be able to find a champion in the Senate to sponsor or author our franchise renewal. We are looking forward to requesting Sen. Tulfo and Senator Win Gatchalian, being the chairperson and vice-chairperson of the senate’s Committee on Energy. We are also hoping to get the support of Sen. Risa Hontiveros, Sen. Robinhood Padilla, and hopefully all the other members of the senate,” Licoben said.
Gatchalian has been consistent in his support for BENECO’s survival starting with the management impasse that happened in 2021 during his chairmanship of the senate’s Committee on Energy. The crisis that escalated resulting in committee hearings in Congress and the Senate prompted Gatchalian to visit and look at how the co-op operates from which he established that BENECO was not an ailing electric cooperative that would justify a takeover.
Sen. Padilla and Sen.Hontiveros have also expressed their deep connection with the Cordillera region. Padilla reportedly spent some of his school years in Baguio City.
Licoben also expressed BENECO’s gratitude to the Power-bloc Congressman Presley De Jesus (PHILRECA Party-list) and Congressman Sergio Dagooc (APEC Party-list) for closely working with the co-op on crucial matters like the franchise renewal.
The power-bloc in Congress were vital in bringing BENECO’s struggles to the national leaders attention.
“We still appeal to our MCOs to continue their support. Your resolutions of support are very crucial in the plenary, more so when it reaches the senate. All sectors of society rallying behind BENECO through resolutions of support will be an undeniable testament that BENECO has served Baguio City and Benguet Province well in the past 50 years, and it deserves to have its franchise renewed to continue serving its MCOs,” Licoben appealed.
BENECO MCOs have enjoyed one of the lowest costs of power in the country for the past 20 years, and the co-op has been given consistent awards by regulating government bodies in recent years for this. It has also been among the electric cooperatives that were given the highest category awards in performance, being a triple A co-op.
The BENECO Labor union has also written Cong. Gus Tambunting, chairperson of the Legislative Franchise Committee, expressing their gratitude, saying “It was prayers answered. The joy we collectively felt was 50 years of Christmases worth combined, this year being our co-op’s 50th Founding Anniversary that we celebrated last month. – Angel Castillo and Laarni S. Ilagan