President Benigno Aquino 3rd will not force Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) Chairman Zenaida Ducut to quit her post amid renewed calls by some lawmakers for her ouster for approving the record power rate increase sought by the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), a Palace official said.
Lawmakers from the party-list Akbayan on Thursday asked Aquino to remove Ducut, saying the ERC chief “is guilty of gross neglect of duty and incompetence by tacitly approving without the barest hint of due process Meralco’s unprecedented power rate hike.”
However, Presidential Communications Secretary Hermnio Coloma Jr. said Aquino cannot pressure Ducut to resign because the latter has the right of due process.
“I think she is not required to leave her post [pending an investigation on high power rate cost],” Coloma said.
“There is a process for such proceedings. We will abide by the due process and we will give her the opportunity to answer the charges filed against her,” he added.
Ducut, who enjoys a fixed term after being appointed by former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, is facing graft, malversation and bribery complaints at the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the pork barrel scam.
The ERC chief has already ignored calls for her to step down.
Reps. Walden Bello and Ibarra Gutierrez of Akbayan party-list who filed an administrative complaint against Ducut said the ERC chief can be fired by the President for her failure to conduct a public hearing on the Meralco rate hike.
“Ducut is guilty of gross neglect of duty and incompetence by tacitly approving—without the barest hint of due process—Meralco’s unprecedented power rate hike. Her failure is stupefying, considering that the increase in Meralco’s generation charge for the month of November 2013 was the largest under the regulatory era administered by the ERC,” Bello said in a statement.
Under Section 46 of the Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Services, gross neglect of duty is punishable by dismissal from the service. When she faced members of the House Committee on Energy, which held an inquiry into the power rate increase, Ducut acknowledged that she can be fired by the President if there is a just cause.
“The fact that she acknowledged that she can be fired during the House Energy panel hearing just shows that out complaint [before the Office of the President]has a legal basis,” Bello said.
He added that under Ducut’s watch, the ERC failed not only in observing basic procedural requirements but also committed gross neglect of duty when the ERC approved Meralco’s Power Supply Agreements (PSAs) with the generation companies supplying it with electricity even though these PSAs did not provide replacement power in the event of scheduled or forced outages.
“This is a clear evidence of negligence that violates one of the fundamental policies embodied in the EPIRA: to ensure the quality, reliability, security and affordability of the supply of electric power,” Bello added, referring to the Electric Power Industry and Reform Act.