No restraining order in favor of ERC chief

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Beleaguered Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) chairman Jose Vicente Salazar, who was suspended by the Office of the President, has failed to convince the Court of Appeals (CA) to act on his petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO).

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Commissioner Alfredo Non was appointed as officer-in-charge (OIC) by President Rodrigo Duterte after Salazar was preventively suspended for 90 days over accusations of corruption.

ERC employees filed a complaint against Salazar before the Office of the Ombudsman for alleged civil service violations pertaining to the appointment of some officials.

Salazar is also facing other accusations such as breach of procurement laws for certain projects and separate 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.

The ERC official was accused of hastily issuing orders on renewal of seven electric power purchase agreements between FDC Utilities Inc.-Misamis and various distribution utilities.

His move to appoint an OIC while he was on leave, when Malacañang had already made an appointment, was also questioned by ERC commissioners.

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 audio-visual presentation project.

The same was supposedly made to favor a certain Luis Morelos but Salazar has been denying any wrongdoing and said there was no such contract yet with Morelos.

After his suspension, Salazar sought redress with the CA but to no avail.

In its June 17, 2017 ruling that was released only recently, the CA’s Eighth Division did not give due course to Salazar’s petition.

“In any event, without necessarily giving due course to the petition for certiorari, respondents [Palace officials] are required to file their comment thereon [not motion to dismiss], and to show cause in the same comment why petitioner’s prayer for issuance of a temporary restraining order [TRO] and/or writ of preliminary injunction [WPI] should not be granted, within ten [10] days from notice. Petitioner may file a reply thereto, within five [5] days from receipt of the comment, if so minded,” the resolution stated.

According to the appellate court, any action on Salazar’s plea for TRO or WPI is held in abeyance pending receipt of the parties’ pleadings.

The petition will be deemed submitted for resolution, upon submission of the pleadings or the expiration of the period of filing of the same, unless the court requires the filing of memoranda from the parties, the tribunal held.
The resolution was penned by Associate Justice Celia Librea-Leagogo and concurred in by Associate Justices Amy Lazaro-Javier and Pedro Corales.

‘Business as usual’

It’s “business as usual” for the ERC a day after Malacañang slapped Salazar with a four-month suspension for insubordination without pay.

In a text message, spokesman Rexie Digal on Friday said the ERC still has Commissioners Alfredo Non, Gloria Victoria Yap-Taruc, Josefina Patricia Magpale-Asirit and Geronimo Santa Ana “who can validly and legally act on matters pending before us.”

Digal added that the commissioners’ first order of business was to nominate Non as officer-in-charge, who was previously named as the OIC by the Malacañang in May after Salazar’s three-month suspension was announced, pending the inquiry into allegations against him such as corruption.

Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Ana Marie Banaag, in a news briefing on Wednesday, said the Office of Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea found Salazar guilty of defying a Malacañang order in his August 2 decision.

Salazar appointed Ronaldo Gomez, chief officer of the ERC’s Mindanao office, as OIC and executive director during his absence even though the Palace had named Santa Ana to the post.

Executive Order 292, or the Administrative Code of 1987, states, “In case of the temporary absence or disability of any subordinate officer or employee in any bureau or office, its head may, subject to existing laws, rules and regulations, designate any other subordinate officer or employee within the organization to perform temporarily the duties of the absent or disabled person.”

Republic Act 9136, or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001, created the ERC as an independent regulator performing the combined quasi-judicial, quasi-legislative and administrative duties in the electric industry.

with JORDEENE SHEEX LAGARE

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