The House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability is prepared to talk to veteran journalist Rosario Sofia “Charie” Villa in a closed-door session to find out what she knows about the suicide of her brother, Francisco Villa Jr., who headed the Bids and Awards Committee at the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).
“We’ve invited Miss Villa to Monday’s hearing. If she shows up and requests an executive session, we will grant it. She could help provide us new insights when we resume our inquiry into the anomalies at the ERC,” said Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, committee chairman.
Villa Jr., a lawyer who was also ERC Director for Planning and Information Service, committed suicide on November 9, leaving behind three letters indicating he was under extreme duress from ERC Chairman Jose Vicente Salazar to endorse rigged contracts at the energy watchdog.
His sister first publicly revealed the handwritten suicide letters that his brother left, and apparently prepared three months before he took his own life.
“Actually, this won’t be the first time that a congressional committee will be talking to a family member of a suicide victim behind closed doors,” Pimentel said.
He added that the Senate Committee on Banks also talked to the widow of Benjamin Pinpin in an executive session in 2011 in connection with alleged behest loans at the state-owned Development Bank of the Philippines.
Pimentel said his panel has so far uncovered at least three irregularities in Salazar’s office that involved the performance of crooked contracts even before the competitive bidding process.
“We are focusing our inquiry into the Office of the Chairman, where the fraud seems to be concentrated,” he added.
Based on initial evidence gathered by the committee, Salazar ordered the renovation of his conference room without a public bidding, and simply demanded that he be reimbursed by the ERC.
Salazar, an appointee of then-President Benigno Aquino 3rd, on his own also obtained new pest control services for the ERC sans a bidding, and despite the fact that the commission already has an ongoing service provider.
The third anomaly involved the hiring of advertising agent Luis Morellos as ERC consultant for an audiovisual production meant for a promotional campaign featuring Salazar, who has apparently been nursing political plans.
“It would appear that the Office of the Chairman simply executed contracts, and the late Director Villa, in his capacity as head of the Bids and Awards panel, was just told to fix up the biddings that would validate the deals after the fact,” Pimentel said.
Villa Jr., 54 and single, shot himself in the head with his .38-caliber revolver inside his house in Parañaque City (Metro Manila). He was the son of the late Ombudsman Francisco Villa Sr.
When President Rodrigo Duterte first got wind of the corruption at the ERC, he angrily demanded the resignation of the entire commission, composed of Salazar and Commissioners Alfredo Non, Gloria Victoria Yap-Taruc, Josefina Patricia-Asirit and Geronimo Sta. Ana—all appointees of the previous administration.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has also filed a bill seeking to abolish the ERC.