ERC chief takes leave to give way to probe

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Regulatory Commission (ERC) Chairman and CEO Jose Vicente Salazar announced on Monday that he is taking a one-month leave to give way to an impartial investigation into allegations of corruption at the agency.

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“Today, I would like to announce that I am going on a one-month leave effective immediately,” Salazar said in a statement.

“I have taken this step in order to focus on helping in the ongoing and planned inquiries regarding issues related to the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), particularly those allegedly raised by the late Director Francisco Jose “Jun” Villa, Jr. prior to his recent death,” energy regulator chief said.

Villa committed suicide on November 9 and left behind suicide notes alleging irregularities in the awarding of an audio-video presentation (AVP) project of the agency.

“I believe that by focusing on this concern, the inquiries can be brought to a speedier and fitting conclusion. This is in the best interest of the ERC. The faster the facts can be brought out in the open, the sooner we can put the matter to rest,” Salazar explained in his statement.

During Salazar’s leave of absence, Commissioner Geronimo D. Sta. Ana will be the officer-in-charge of the Office of the Chairman.

Earlier, ERC bids committee vice chairman Teofilo G. Arbalate, Jr. clarified that the “AVP project” supposedly referred to in the alleged Villa suicide note “was never awarded to any party and no contract has been signed in connection with it.”

Arbalate explained that the “AVP project” was a proposed audio-visual material intended to help the ERC clarify its role in the power sector and how it performs its functions.

He pointed out that the ERC had initially allocated a budget of P300,000 for the project to cover both the creative and production requirements.

“The project went through two biddings, both of which failed,” Arbalate explained. Villa chaired both bidding processes.

Salazar had approved the resolutions declaring the failure of bidding based on the recommendation of Villa, Arbalate explained.

Arbalate said the first bidding failed because no bidder qualified.

The Villa committee also recommended that the second bidding be declared a failure because his committee had not set clear standards and criteria for determining the rating criteria.

Arbalate said the creative director, identified as Luis Morelos in the Villa letter, did not participate in both biddings because he did not qualify.

Salazar also earlier clarified that the Villa bids committee “has nothing to do with the bidding for contracts for power supply.” The Villa committee is concerned solely with the procurement of goods and services, including office supplies, he said.

He explained that large contracts in the power sector, including power supply agreements among power generators and distribution utilities, go through bidding processes done by the private industry players and ERC had nothing to do with the bidding for those supply agreements.

The ERC’s role is to examine and determine the proposed rates at which the cost of the purchase of power supply is passed on to consumers, Salazar added.

The Villa committee did not and never played a role in these processes, he said.

Salazar said he has requested the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Commission on Audit (COA) to speed up the investigation. He also assured the Senate Committee on Energy of his full cooperation when it starts the proposed hearing on the allegations made by Villa.

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