President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to abolish the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) if its high-ranking officials refuse to resign amid allegations of corruption in the agency.
“I demanded that they all resign. If they refuse to do so, that’s easy. We’ll abolish the office. I won’t give them any centavo,” Duterte said in his arrival speech in Davao City Thursday.
Duterte has called for the resignation of ERC Commissioners Alfredo Non, Ina Asirit, Geronimo Sta. Ana, Gloria Victoria Taruc and ERC Chairman Jose Vicente Salazar at the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Lima, Peru. The officials were slapped graft charges Thursday at the Office of the Ombudsman.
The ERC determines if power rates are above board.
“How can I serve the people with a corrupt government? They think we are joking here,” Duterte said.
“I cannot stand corruption, because this has been going for so long, dating back when I was a student. I am so fed up. Be content with your allowances and salary. Do not make the government as a milking cow,” he added.
Presidential Commission for Urban Poor (PCUP) chairman Terry Ridon backed the President’s demand that all ERC officials step down.
Ridon, who was a member of the Committee on Energy when he was the representative of Kabataan party-list at the House of Representatives, said the ERC should explain why despite its mandate as regulator of the power industry, electricity rates in the country remains one of the highest in the world.
“The ERC cannot hide behind lifeline rates for the poor as these are subsidized by other consumers anyway. We need to ask them why are the basic rates, particularly on the generation side, seemed skewed in favor of power producers,” Ridon said.
“The ERC needs to explain to the President what measures had been undertaken to protect the interests of the consumers,” he added.
A consumer group also on Thursday filed a graft complaint against Salazar, Non, Asirit, Taruc and Sta. Ana over the alleged illegal extension of the effectivity date of a resolution requiring power supply deals to undergo Competitive Selection Process (CSP).
In a 22-page complaint, the Alyansa Para sa Bagong Pilipinas, Inc. alleged that “[t]he collective act of Respondents in extending the implementation date of the competitive selection process was clearly a ploy to accommodate Meralco’s sister companies/affiliates to bag the lucrative power supply agreements without complying or undergoing the mandated CSP.”
The Department of Energy passed a circular in June 2015 mandating distribution utilities to undergo CSP in securing power supply agreements.
On October 20, 2015, the group said the ERC passed Resolution No. 13 entitled “A Resolution Directing All Distribution Utilities (DUs) To Conduct A Competitive Selection Process (CSP) in the Procurement Of Their Supply To The Captive Market.”
The complaint further said that the ERC issued Resolution No. 01 in March this year clarifying the effectivity of Resolution No. 13, which was supposedly published on November 6, 2015 after the Commission received letters from stakeholders that raised issues on the constitutionality and effectivity of the CSP resolution.
The ERC extended the resolution’s effectivity to April 30, 2016.
But the group said there was no valid reason for the extension. It claimed that the respondents unlawfully extended the effectivity of the resolution to exempt seven power supply agreements (PSAs) from CSP.
No gag order
Yesterday, Salazar denied issuing a gag order preventing ERC officials from discussing the case of director Francisco Villa Jr. who killed himself over alleged corruption in the agency.
Salazar said all ERC officials were instructed to fully cooperate with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Commission on Audit (COA) which are investigating Villa’s allegations.
“They are also free to speak to news media when asked about the ERC project alluded to by Director Villa,” the ERC chief said.
“What I have instructed them not to do is to defend the ERC against allegations at the expense of the reputation and memory of Director Villa,” he explained. “They are, however, free to answer questions and provide information both to the investigators and to media on matters related to allegations against the ERC.”
Earlier, ERC bids committee vice chairman Teofilo G. Arbalate, Jr. clarified that the “AVP project” supposedly referred to in Villa’s suicide note “was never awarded to any party and no contract has been signed in connection with it.”
“The project went through two biddings both of which failed,” Arbalate said. Villa chaired both bidding processes.
WITH ABERON VOLTAIRE PALAÑA AND NEIL ALCOBER