NEA execs slapped with theft charges | Inquirer News

NEA execs slapped with theft charges

/ 04:30 AM November 16, 2021

STAKEOUT Workers of Benguet Electric Cooperative in Baguio City stage a protest as they retake their utility’s headquarters from the National Electrification Administration in this photo taken on Oct. 20. —NEIL CLARK ONGCHANCO

BAGUIO CITY, Benguet, Philippines — After being declared persona non grata by the local governments of this city and Benguet province, the lawyers held responsible for the National Electrification Administration’s (NEA) much-criticized takeover of Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) were charged with theft, grave coercion and malicious mischief.

In a complaint lodged before the Baguio City Prosecutor’s Office on Nov. 11, Beneco general manager Melchor Licoben blamed NEA lawyers Omar Mayo and Anna Maria Paz Rafael for the disappearance of a service vehicle and equipment, such as security system components and hand-held radios, during the takeover on Oct. 18.


Mayo, a NEA-designated caretaker of the co-op, seized the Beneco headquarters in the dead of night with the help of deputized armed Cordillera policemen. The missing vehicle, a Toyota Hiace van, was later found abandoned at Baguio Cathedral on Oct. 25.

Licoben said Mayo and Rafael, whom the NEA has named as Beneco’s general manager, were also liable for grave coercion for launching the raid at Baguio’s South Drive before 3 a.m. on Oct. 18 while people slept, which intimidated Beneco employees.


The workers, “aware of the siege that earlier took place, did not report for work” because they were fearful for their safety, Licoben said in the complaint.

‘People power’

Beneco operations resumed when a large crowd of protestors, composed of Beneco workers, Baguio and Benguet residents, and Beneco member-consumers, took back the headquarters on Oct. 20 in what Licoben described in the complaint as an act of “people power.”

According to Licoben’s complaint, Mayo, Rafael and their unnamed accomplices were accountable for the destruction of Beneco property in the two days they had control over the building, including its shattered glass doors and the still inexplicable damage to ignition keys and switches of Beneco vehicles.

Mayo and Rafael were declared persona non grata by the Benguet Provincial Board on Nov. 3 and Nov. 13 for their role in the Beneco siege.

The Baguio City Council also declared Mayo persona non grata on Oct. 25 at the conclusion of its investigation into the widely condemned NEA takeover.

Mayo, who was designated Beneco caretaker by the NEA board in September, informed the city council last month that he was tasked to govern Beneco operations as “project supervisor” while its leadership issue remained unresolved after the co-op board rejected the NEA board’s appointment of Rafael.

He was also tasked to enforce the NEA’s suspension of Licoben and seven Beneco board directors, including board president Esteban Somngi, for refusing to acknowledge Rafael as their new general manager.


Eligibility questioned

These officials questioned Rafael’s eligibility to manage a rural electric cooperative, as well as the alleged shortcuts taken by the regulator to install her as Beneco manager.

Rafael is a former Mountain Province town mayor and a recently resigned assistant secretary of the Presidential Communications Operations Office.

Security footage showed Rafael at the Beneco headquarters before 6 a.m. after Mayo took control there. She was also at an Oct. 17 meeting when Mayo and the police mapped out the siege, according to a police official.

Rafael has not issued any statement regarding Licoben’s lawsuit.

In earlier briefings, Rafael said she applied for the general management post in good faith and had intended to manage the utility “with full transparency.”

In an interview on Monday, Licoben told the Inquirer that he also filed a separate human rights complaint against the Cordillera Police Office in Camp Dangwa for abetting the siege of Beneco. The NEA board had deputized the police to assist in the takeover.

Licoben’s Nov. 3 complaint at the Commission on Human Rights Cordillera Office cited a Camp Dangwa official for “allowing the use of excessive police force to serve a mere suspension order in the cover of darkness in violation of our rights as human beings.”

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