• Duterte sacks ERC chief, appoints OIC

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    PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has appointed Commissioner Alfredo Non as officer in charge (OIC) of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), Malacañang announced on Thursday.

    Non will temporarily head the agency after its chairman, Jose Vicente Salazar, was suspended by the Office of the President.

    “Commisioner Non is directed to ensure the uninterrupted delivery of services to the public and efficient operations of the ERC,” Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said in Non’s appointment letter.

    On Wednesday, Malacañang issued a 90-day preventive suspension order against Salazar over accusations of corruption.

    ERC employees filed a complaint against Salazar before the Office of the Ombudsman last month over civil service violations pertaining to the appointment of some officials. The ERC chief is also facing other accusations such as the violation of procurement laws for certain projects.

    Sought for comment, Salazar said in a text message: “While I view the said order with some concern, still, I am grateful for the opportunity to take a breather from work. I shall use the time to be with my family and to attend to my personal concerns.”

    ‘Grave misconduct’

    Salazar is facing charges of “serious dishonesty, gross neglect of duty, and grave misconduct,” on account of violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001.

    He was accused of “hastily” issuing orders relative to the renewal of seven electric power purchase agreements
    between FDC Utilities Inc.-Misamis and various distribution utilities.

    Salazar was given 10 days to answer the allegations hurled against him.

    Malacañang’s suspension order said “examination of the records reveals there exists a prima facie case against Chairman Salazar” on the said charges.

    “Moreover, this Office has personal knowledge of Chairman Salazar’s act of unilaterally designating an OIC to perform the functions of his post in his absence despite the earlier designation made by this Office,” the order added.

    ERC commissioners earlier questioned Salazar’s move to appoint an OIC while he was on leave, when Malacañang had already made an appointment.

    Salazar earlier defied President Duterte’s call for him to resign after ERC Director Francisco Villa Jr. committed suicide amid alleged pressure from commission officials to approve questionable deals.

    Villa specifically named Salazar in the alleged rigging of the selection process for an audiovisual presentation project to favor a certain Luis Morelos.

    Salazar has denied any wrongdoing and said there was no contract yet with Morelos.

    ‘Spring cleaning’ needed

    ERC spokesman Floresinda Digal said on Thursday ERC commissioners held a special meeting and nominated Non as OIC.

    Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said in a statement that the controversies surrounding Salazar had cast a long shadow over the integrity of the ERC, the regulator of the power sector.

    “Questions on the integrity of Salazar and the ERC as an institution must be immediately resolved to restore stability to the energy regulatory mechanism of government,” Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy, said.

    “In line with this, I am urging Malacañang to use this opportunity to conduct a thorough spring cleaning of the ERC. Dishonest officials, questionable contracts, and other anomalies must be investigated and dealt with as soon as possible. The government must ensure that the ERC is exercising its considerable powers for the benefit of the public good. The ERC should not be used as a vehicle to feed the greed of corrupt individuals,” Gatchalian added.

    Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said the preventive suspension of Salazar was another example that there were no “sacred cows” in the Duterte administration.

    “Corruption adds to the cost of everything. That being said, it is but proper that all allegations of wrongdoings are properly investigated,” said Cusi.

    “I expect fair treatment of all officers and workers in government,” said Cusi. “The suspension is a means to give way to a fair investigation of the issues being thrown at Chairman Salazar, “ he added.

    with ABERON VOLTAIRE S. PALAÑA

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