PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Monday demanded the resignation of Energy Regulatory Commission officials after reports of rampant corruption inside the agency.
“They must resign,” Duterte said in a press briefing in Peru before leaving for Manila.
He said he had read the internal and intelligence reports that pointed to anomalies and abuse of position.
“I have options,” he said. “File a case against them all or demand that no money be appropriated. Their budget hearings are up. I can give them nothing.”
Duterte said he will ask Congress to either withhold the ERC’s budget or disband the agency altogether.
He added that cases would be filed against corrupt officials that he did not name.
Duterte’s demand comes after a top official of the agency, ERC Director Francisco Villa Jr., killed himself on November 9 after allegedly being pressured to approve procurement contracts and hire consultants without following proper procedures. He named names in a series of suicide notes.
His sister, broadcaster Rosario Sofia Villa said her brother had told her that ERC contracts were rigged, and being executed before the actual bidding.
Three ERC commissioners, however, said they would not step down.
“We are one in the decision to stay in the post. Resignation would not be to the best interest of the ERC,” said ERC Commissioner Ina Asirit, speaking for her colleagues Alfredo Non and Gloria Victoria Taruc.
Asirit said that after discussing the concerns among themselves, they all welcome an impartial investigation into Villa’s suicide but asserted that they need to preserve the institution.
Non said they faced a “no-win situation,” where they would look guilty if they resigned, and look like they were clinging to power if they did not.
The commissioners said they would create a vacuum that would affect the agency’s work if they all resigned.
A fourth commissioner, Geronimo Sta. Ana, has not issued a statement.
ERC chairman Jose Vicente Salazar said he is waiting for Duterte to return from Peru “to give him a fuller picture of the current developments at the ERC.”
“We were informed about the President’s statement made in Lima, Peru regarding a call for the resignation of all ERC officials in the wake of the recent issues confronting the organization,” Salazar said.
“I am now waiting for the President’s return and will immediately seek a meeting with him to give him a fuller picture of the current developments at the ERC. I am confident that the proposed meeting with and briefing for the President would result in clearer directions from him regarding the issues facing the ERC,” he added.
He also assured Duterte that he had the “highest respect for his recent statement” and vowed to take “appropriate actions that would protect the organization.”
Salazar said he has requested the Commission on Audit to look into corruption allegations raised by Villa.
Salazar, appointed in August 2015, has a fixed seven-year term at the ERC while the remaining four commissioners have a five-year fixed term.
In his remarks, Duterte said red flags at the agency included questionable appointments, including having too many consultants, and how contracts were awarded.
“They want to spare the humiliation of sitting there without their money? They resign and I will reorganize or rename the agency,” the President said of the top ERC officials.
The Villas thanked Duterte for his efforts to shed light over the suicide.
“We thank the President for taking the first step towards reforms in the power industry, which will benefit consumers and the economy,” the family said in a statement.
“We appeal for your help to set up a helpline for government employees undergoing the same kind of stress and harassment in the work place,” they added.
Senate energy committee chairman Sherwin Gatchalian said his panel could investigate the allegations of corruption based on Villa’s disclosures.
Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi and Undersecretary Felix William Fuentebella also said they plan to investigate the reports of corruption.
Cusi said the Energy department and the ERC were “resolute” in finding out the truth behind the allegations and issues raised.
“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,” 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,” Cusi 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,” Cusi said.
“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,” Cusi said.
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