CIVIL society groups belonging to the Power for People Coalition, or P4P, on Wednesday slammed the Court of Appeals for stopping the suspension of four commissioners of the Energy Regulatory Commission who were suspended by the Office of the Ombudsman for allegedly giving undue advantage to Manila Electric Co. last December.
“The CA cited ‘grave and irreparable injury’ to the four suspended commissioners as a reason for issuing a TRO in their favor. These ERC commissioners were found to have colluded with Meralco to ensure their ‘sweetheart deals’ with sister coal generation companies pushed through,” Sanlakas secretary-general Aaron Pedrosa, convenor of the P4P Coalition, said in a statement.
“What about the grave and irreparable injury to Meralco’s 19 million customers who will suffer because of the coal-fired power plants they approved?”
Commissioners Alfredo Non, Gloria Victoria Yap-Taruc, Josefina Patricia Asirit, and Geronimo Sta. Ana were suspended by the Ombudsman in December after exempting Meralco and other firms from the competitive selection process, which mandates that all power supply agreements be covered by public bidding.
Pedrosa, who also filed the case against the commissioners, said lifting the suspension would enable them to decide in favor of the questionable power supply agreements.
“This 60-day TRO may cost consumers and citizens at least 20 years of dirtier and costlier energy from coal,” he said.
“If new or interim ERC commissioners are needed to replace the suspended ones, then Malacañang could easily appoint them. Why should those who were suspended because of anomalous activities be allowed to continue serving?" said Cris Palabay, who belongs to Save the Beauty of La Union, a group resisting the efforts of Global Luzon Energy Development Corp. to build two 335-megawatt coal-fired power generating facility in Luna, La Union.
“The failure to implement the Ombudsman’s suspension does not speak well of the Duterte administration’s commitment to protect the environment and combat corruption,” said Vin Buenaagua, Research, Policy and Advocacy head for the Center for Energy, Ecology and Development.
P4P convenor Erwin Puhawan of the Freedom from Debt Coalition agreed with the assessment.
“Malacanang had ordered ERC Chair Agnes Devanadera to implement the suspension. And yet the President failed to name replacements for the suspended ERC Commissioners, enabling the ERC to say that public service will suffer if the suspended commissioners cannot stay,” said Puhawan. “Who else can the consumer trust in protecting their interest?”
“By lifting the suspension the CA, in effect, upheld the faulty contracts these commissioners had approved against the public interest. They were suspended precisely because their actions had exposed consumers to high electricity prices and the negative environmental and health impacts of these coal plants,・ said Ian Rivera, national coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice.
In a resolution dated Feb. 9, 2018, the CA’s Ninth Division issued a 60-day TRO against the resolution of the anti-graft body suspending the four ERC commissioners for one year.
The appellate court said the issuance of the TRO was necessary in order not to “impair public service.”
Malacañang has not appointed replacements for the four ERC commissioners since the Ombudsman ordered their suspension on Dec. 11, 2017.