Thursday, April 27, 2017

ERC commissioners turn against Chair Salazar over appointments

Posted on April 20, 2017

ALL four commissioners of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) on Wednesday filed a complaint before the Civil Service Commission (CSC) against their chairman, Jose Vicente B. Salazar, in connection with his appointments without their approval.

The complainants, ERC Commissioners Alfredo J. Non, Geronimo D. Sta. Ana, Gloria Victoria C. Yap-Taruc, and Josephina Patricia A. Magpale-Asirit, accused Mr. Salazar of violating Republic Act 9136 or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA), the Anti-Red Tape law, a CSC memorandum circular, and various Civil Service rules, regulations.

The complaint stated that under the EPIRA, the ERC chairman does not have the sole power to appoint executive directors and members of the agency’s technical staff. The complainants said the power to appoint them is still “lodged with the Commission.”

“However, Chairman Salazar, in his capacity as Chief Executive Officer, has been solely exercising this power to appoint, deliberate excluding the other members of the Commission,” the complaint read.

The commissioners said in their complaint that Mr. Salazar appointed, designated and made reassignments of several ERC employees “without authority from the Commission.”

According to the complaint, Mr. Salazar, who’s currently on leave, appointed Ronaldo G. Gomez as officer-in-charge (OIC) executive director. Mr. Gomez is the Chief Energy Regulation Officer at the ERC Mindanao Field Office.

Mr. Salazar also appointed his executive assistant and first-degree cousin Esteban Lorenzo B. Riva as OIC of the Administrative Division of the Financial and Administrative Service.

However, the commissioners said the appointments of Messrs. Gomez and Riva violated the CSC Memorandum Circular No. 6 series of 2005, which states that “employees to be designated should (be) permanent appointments to career positions.”

The commissioners explained that Mr. Riva is holding a “confidential and co-terminus” position, making him ineligible for the appointment, while in appointing Mr. Gomez, Mr. Salazar bypassed the directors of the ERC who rank next to executive directors.

The complainants also said some of Mr. Salazar’s appointees lacked the necessary career executive eligibility.

The commissioners said Mr. Salazar’s charges include dishonesty, oppression, grave misconduct, neglect in the performance of duty, and administrative offenses.

They also asked the CSC to issue a preventive suspension order against Mr. Salazar while an investigation is ongoing.

“After all that has been said and done, the Commission merely wants to promote good governance and checks and balances within the ERC. And we sincerely believe that this could be achieved if the policies of the agency, including the management thereof, could be shared by all members of the Commission,” the commissioners said.

Just recently, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) had recommended the filing of charges before the Office of the Ombudsman against Mr. Salazar and three others over an allegedly anomalous audio visual-presentation (AVP) project.

Aside from Mr. Salazar, the NBI recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges against Prescia Vanessa A. Reynante-Reynoso of the ERC Legal Division, Teofilo G. Arbalate, Jr. of the Management Information System Division, and Luis B. Morelos of FATFREE, Inc.

The late ERC director Jose Francisco S. Villa, Jr., in his suicide note, said the said AVP project was “rigged.”

A congressional probe has been launched about the circumstances that prompted Mr. Villa to commit suicide on Nov. 9 last year, with the four commissioners testifying at the House of Representatives.

During that hearing, Mr. Salazar said Mr. Morelos is a friend who was helping provide concepts for the AVP.

Mr. Villa left behind suicide notes dated Aug. 23, 24 and 25, 2016, which a member of his family said indicated his being “pressured” to approve contracts for procurements and hiring consultants without proper bidding and procedure.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte had earlier threatened to shut down the ERC and create a new office following corruption allegations hounding the agency. He also demanded the resignation of all ERC officials.

House Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez has filed a bill seeking to abolish the ERC.

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