ERC chief Salazar, commissioners charged with grave abuse of authority

Nation

Posted on November 25, 2016

A CONSUMER GROUP on Thursday filed before the Ombudsman a case of grave abuse of authority against the embattled officials of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) led by its chairman, Jose Vicente B. Salazar.

This development comes two weeks after the Nov. 9 suicide of ERC Director Francisco Jose S. Villa, Jr., who reportedly claimed in notes he left behind that he was pressured to hire consultants and approve contracts for procurements without proper bidding.

Mr. Salazar was specifically named in the said notes by Mr. Villa, whose death and its aftermath have drawn public — and presidential — attention to the alleged goings-on at the ERC.

In a statement on Thursday, consumer group Alyansa para sa Bagong Pilipinas (ABP) said the ERC arbitrarily postponed by six months the implementation of its own Rules for Competitive Selection Process (CSP), thus allowing “the evasion by Meralco (Manila Electric Company) of its seven midnight coal contracts totaling 3,551 mw worth $10 billion without benefit of bidding.”

ABP said this constituted a violation of Republic Acts 3019 (the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) and 6713 (the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees).

ABP explained that the ERC had issued Resolution 13, requiring all power supply contracts submitted to the commission for approval to go through competitive bidding effective Nov. 6, 2015.

Four months later, in March this year, the ERC “inexplicably extended” this implementation to April 30, “which enabled Meralco to hurriedly sign seven (7) power supply contracts on April 26, 2016 and file with the ERC the day before the new deadline,” ABP said.

The group also criticized a clarification by the ERC on the extension of the CSP, saying it rendered its “moral spirit… useless” and denied consumers “the benefit of competition,… subjecting them to the significantly disadvantageous negotiated prices between Meralco and affiliated generators.”

ABP named as respondents Mr. Salazar and ERC Commissioners Gloria Victoria Yap-Taruc, Josefina Patricia Magpale-Asirit, Alfredo J. Non, and Geronimo Sta. Ana.

“ABP prays the Office of the Ombudsman penalize Salazar and the commissioners with a jail term or dismissal from government service,” the group said in its statement.

In his remarks Wednesday night upon his arrival in Davao City from the APEC Summit in Peru, President Rodrigo R. Duterte noted the “refus[al]” of Mr. Salazar and the ERC commissioners “to step down” and warned that he “will abolish the office. I will not grant any single centavo.” He also threatened to “set up another” agency.

“In the light of the recent developments in the Energy Regulatory Commission, I have directed a comprehensive review of all legal remedies to overhaul and effect fundamental changes in the agency, including the officials,” Mr. Duterte also said.

Mr. Salazar and the ERC commissioners have refused to heed his call for their resignation and have appealed for a meeting with Mr. Duterte.

Both houses of Congress are set to conduct their respective inquiries into the ERC controversy. — with Raynan F. Javil and Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral