Benguet officials prepare for reprisal after PNG declaration


LA TRINIDAD, Benguet — Members of the Benguet Provincial Board who declared former Presidential Communications Operations Office Atty. Ana Marie Rafael and National Electrification Administration (NEA) lawyer Omar Mayo unwelcome in the province, are anticipating retaliation from their camp.

The provincial lawmakers declared the two persona non grata (PNG) in connection to the October 18 forcible takeover of the Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) compound in South Drive, Baguio City. Mayo led the operation to prevent seven Beneco Board of Directors and their appointed general manager Engr. Melchor Licoben from entering the office, assisted by fully armed personnel from the Police Regional Cordillera mobile force.

Vice Governor Johnny Waguis said that despite the threat of getting sued or bashed on social media, they did what they believed was right.

“We are anticipating, he (Mayo) might file charges against us,” he said, adding that Mayo asked for an official copy of the November 3 board session minutes.

“The [board members] anticipated possible consequences. We are prepared,” he added.

NEA appointed Mayo as Beneco Project Supervisor last September to supervise the operation of the cooperative amid squabble for the general manager’s post. The office also appointed Rafael as general manager, but the Beneco Board rejected her and affirmed the designation of Licoben.

On November 8, thirteen members voted in favor of the PNG resolution, and one abstained during the provincial board’s regular session. Last Wednesday, November 3, the body passed the PNG resolution against Mayo after hearing his side of the issue. They deferred the decision for Rafael’s inclusion, pending verification of her statement that she was not part of the October 18 armed takeover of Beneco.

Rafael, who was present during the November 3 session, said that “it is up [for the board] to decide” when the members asked her why she should not be declared persona non grata. The board also asked her to give way to Licoben and respect the public clamor; Rafael replied: “I just want to work…unless and until my appointment is annulled, I need to work as general manager.”

Reasons to be unwelcome

Waguis said Rafael was declared unwelcome in Benguet because of several events surrounding the Beneco power struggle apart from the October 18 armed takeover. He also accused her of lying when she denied involvement in the October 18 armed takeover. He said the board received a copy of Rafael’s letter asking NEA to implement its suspension order.

In an October 2 letter, Rafael asked NEA to help fully implement their suspension order. She particularly asked, “to bodily drag the respondents or bring them out from the headquarters should they refuse to comply with the order.”

Waguis also noted that during the November 3 session, Rafael told the board that she arrived at the headquarters of Beneco at around 7:00 AM of October 18. However, they saw footage of Rafael being present in the compound around 5:00 AM after the takeover.

The Benguet board earlier passed a resolution condemning the October 18 incident for disrespecting the “peace-loving Benguet people.”

The vice governor also said they took offense in the gathering of Rafael and her supporters right after the November 3 session, which they viewed as some sort of “victory party” and a “disrespect and disregard to Benguet officials.”

Board abused its authority

One of the volunteer lawyers of the Rafael camp, Jingboy Atonen, confirmed that they are planning to file charges against members of the provincial board who favored the PNG declaration.

He said the PNG declaration has “no factual basis” and “a grave abuse of power” by the legislators.

“Atty. Rafael only applied for the Beneco [general manager] position. She has not done any acts against the Benguet people. She has not uttered any words against the Benguet people. Lastly, she was not part of the team that entered Beneco (building) in the early morning of October 18,” he explained.

“How can one be validly declared as PNG when she is just doing her duty as legally appointed [general manager] of Beneco?” he added.

The lawyer also maintained that NEA’s entry into the Beneco building at 3:00AM on October 18 was “an enforcement in a peaceful manner” of the suspension order of suspension against Licoben and the seven directors.

Atonen said they are eying criminal and administrative indictment under Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, including a damage suit.

“It is our position that the [persona non grata] serves no other purpose except to humiliate, harass, and demean the reputation of Atty. Rafael,” he said.

The lawyer further explained that the facts on the Beneco leadership are legal and not political, therefore “the solution is also legal.”

“Rather than go to social media and to politicians, those opposing the appointment of Atty. Rafael as [general manager should go to court. We must respect the rule of law,” Atonen said. # / with reports from Sherwin De Vera

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