LIMA, PERU: Malacañang has assured the public that there will be no sacred cows in the investigation of alleged corruption hurled against Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) officials by one of its directors, lawyer Francisco Jose Villa Jr., who took his own life on November 9.
In a text message, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said, “PRRD [Duterte] has ordered the immediate investigation of the ERC.”
Andanar said those involved in corruption in the ERC will be held accountable regardless of who they are. “[It is] unclear to me which body will investigate,” he said “[but]there will be no sacred cows.”
Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said over the weekend that the department was also resolute in finding the truth behind the allegations.
“We need a strong energy regulator and a united energy family. Our strength should be based on the truth. As the leader of the sector, I enjoin everyone to be fair.”
The allegations of corruption in the ERC and other issues were raised by Villa in “suicide notes” discovered after he took his own life.
In notes he wrote three months ago when he started feeling the pressure from ERC Chairman Jose Vicente Salazar, Villa said, “My greatest fear in the bids and awards committee is the AVP by Luis Morelos which the chairman chose through a rigged selection system. That will be a criminal act.”
His sister, broadcast journalist Charie Villa, said : “Jun was pressured to approve contracts for procurements and hiring consultants without proper bidding and procedure as bids and awards committee chairman.”
In a statement, Salazar said he was “baffled by the insinuations” linking him to Villa’s death, but would “refrain from ascribing any motive to the allegations.”
“I believe it would be fair to Director Villa’s memory and to our office for an impartial inquiry into the allegations to be done by an objective body,” he said.
Salazar also said the commission would consider options available and discuss them in a meeting on Monday.
The ERC chairman said while he wanted to protect and preserve the memory of the late Villa, he was “duty-bound to make sure that the reputation and integrity of the organization is likewise protected.”
“At the moment, we continue to share in the grief and sense of loss of the family of Director Jun. We need to respect this particular moment,” Salazar said.
In his letter to Charie Villa offering the DOE’s sincerest sympathies on the unexpected death of her brother, Energy Secretary Cusi said, “We need to ensure that ERC personnel are able to recover immediately. They are also affected by the loss of their colleague but their service is needed by our country.”
“This is a challenge for all of us. Our commitment to fairness and the truth will be tested. I am confident that we will come out stronger after this,” the energy chief said.
“I have spoken to the commissioners of the ERC. I am pleased that they too want to get to the bottom of this. I have assured them of the department’s support in carrying out their mandate in protecting electricity consumers,” he added.
Senate Energy Committee Chairman Win Gatchalian is considering an official Senate investigation into corruption allegations made against prominent ERC officials.
“The allegations made by the late Director Villa indicate the possibility of widespread corruption within one of the most important government regulatory bodies. It might be prudent for the Senate Committee on Energy to investigate this matter in order to protect the interests of electricity consumers,” said Gatchalian.
In his interpellation on the proposed DOE budget during the Senate plenary session on Thursday, Gatchalian referred to the ERC as “the Supreme Court of the power industry” due to its broad decision-making powers within the energy sector.
In particular, Gatchalian pointed out that the ERC is the body responsible for granting several types of critical permits necessary for power industry players to operate.
“The ERC is tasked to insulate the power industry from vested interests and corruption. Corruption within the body itself could result in the proliferation of anti-competitive behavior which would be disastrous to the stability of our electricity supply. ERC officials should be ready with a solid explanation which will put any doubts regarding their integrity to rest,” said Gatchalian.
However, Gatchalian promised that any investigation undertaken by his committee would be an objective one which would afford all interested parties with ample opportunities to present their respective sides of the story.
“The investigation would be impartial, with the integrity of the power sector as the foremost concern. We won’t make any pre-judgments, but we will certainly seek out the truth. A good man and respected public servant took his own life over this. We owe it to his memory to at least look into the allegations he made,” he added.