ANOTHER administrative complaint has been filed against Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) Chairman Zenaida Ducut before the Office of the President, this time by various consumer and homeowner groups.
On Thursday, leaders of different homeowners associations, informal settlers’ federations and women’s groups filed the complaint against Ducut for “gross negligence.” They said Ducut failed to protect them from the unusually high and unwarranted power rate increases charged by the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco).
The complaint, the second to be filed against Ducut and signed by 15 sectoral leaders, called on President Benigno Aquino 3rd to fire the ERC chief for approving Meralco’s rate application “without any public consultation or regulatory investigation.”
The groups said Ducut’s failure to regulate betrayed her role to ensure the adequate promotion of consumer interests.
“Like her pork barrel past, Ducut as chief energy regulator is also a fiasco. How she could have failed to exercise the barest minimum of regulation to a proposed power rate hike that is appallingly high is unimaginable,” Manny Manato of the Santolan Riverside Neighborhood Federation (SRNF) said.
“Ducut’s failure to act, knowing too well that the record-high generation charge will be passed to hapless consumers, is mind-boggling if not ruthless. This person has no business to lead a regulatory body. Her continued stay in office is a mockery of the concept of regulation with the public at the losing end of this cruel joke,” he added.
Manato said Ducut also failed to monitor and act on the unscrupulous bidding strategy between Meralco and a power supplier.
“By now, we are already aware that Therma Mobile, a generation company, was instructed by Meralco to sell at P62 per kilowatt-hour at WESM even if the bilateral contract between the two parties is for only P8.65 per kWh. As such, Meralco manipulated the market and practically dictated the price of electricity at that time.
By passing the price to consumers as generation charges, Meralco ensured super profits from its unknowing consumers,” Manato said.
WESM is the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market where electricity is traded.
“Through all of this, Ducut’s regulatory role was gravely missing. Generation charges are billed pursuant to Power Supply Agreements (PSAs) entered into by and between Meralco and the generation companies. How this was overlooked by Ducut is astonishing as Meralco’s PSAs are filed with, reviewed, and approved by her office,” Manato said.
He urged the President to remove Ducut as ERC chief, saying her “string of failures and gross negligence already borders to the criminal.”
“President Aquino must not waver on this issue. The force and determination that was seen when the President removed inept officials during the early years of his presidency must once again be used on this issue. The ranks of ordinary homeowners and informal settlers can’t bear a day longer to see Ducut still leading the ERC,” Manato said.
The Times tried to contact the office of Ducut for comment but failed to reach her.
Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said Ducut will be asked to answer the allegations against her.
“The second complaint will go through the same process. I cannot comment on the merits at this time,” she said.
The groups also added their voice to the growing clamor to repeal the Electric Power Industry Reform Act.
“Like Ducut, EPIRA is also a failure. The promise of easy and cheap access to electricity remains unfulfilled. What we have now are higher electricity prices, poorer power delivery, and a real power crisis brought about by privatization,” Manato said.
The other groups that signed the complaint are the Federation of Military and Civilian Residents, Maysapang-C5 Neighborhood Association, Maysapang II Neighborhood Association, Maysapang Riverside Neighborhood Association, Armor Village Neighborhood Association-Palar Group II, Nagkakaisang Samahan sa Nayon ng Palar Group III, Mini Park Neighborhood Association, Pasig Libre!, Malayang Tinig ng Kababaihan sa Komunidad Samahan ng mga Nanay sa Brgy. Obrero, Bicol Area Neighborhood Association, Alyansa ng mga Samahang Nagkakaisa Para sa Kaunlaran at Karapatang Pantao.
Last January, Akbayan Reps. Walden Bello and Barry Gutierrez of Akbayan parytylist filed the first complaint against Ducut, saying her “gross neglect of duty and failure to protect the power consumers” led to massive increases in electricity rate of Meralco, which it considered as the “highest in history.”
The case is pending before the Office of the Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs.