ERC preparing for transition after suspension of four commissioners

By Alena Mae S. Flores – July 08, 2018 at 06:55 pm

The Energy Regulatory Commission is preparing for transition this week after the Office of the President affirmed the suspension of its four commissioners.

ERC chairman Agnes Devanadera vowed to implement the suspension of the four commissioners Monday, after receiving an order from the Office of the President after office hours Friday.

The Office of the Ombudsman ordered the suspension of commissioners Alfredo Non, Gloria Victoria Yap-Taruc, Josefina Patricia Asirit and Geronimo Sta. Ana for three months without pay on May 18.  The order was not immediately implemented pending the directive from Malacañang.

“ERC received the memo on the suspension of the four commissioners from the Office of the Exec Secretary close to 6 p.m. (Friday). By then, I already left the office. I will be able to serve the suspension on the commissioners only on Monday at the earliest,” Devanadera said.

The ERC official said two commissioners, Non and Yap-Taruc, were also scheduled to retire Tuesday.

“Our office shall remain open and ready to render services except those which require the action of the commission en banc,” Devanadera said.

Rolly Faller, the private legal counsel for the suspended officials, said the commissioners would comply with the order.

“The commissioners respect the decision of the Office of the President in implementing the suspension order of the Ombudsman, thus, they will comply,” he said.

“However, should the Court of Appeals resolve to grant their application for injunctive relief, they shall accordingly inform the OP about it and request that the same be considered in the implementation of the suspension order. Effective Monday, July 9, my clients will not hold office for the duration of the suspension period, unless sooner enjoined by the CA,” Faller said.

The four ERC commissioners have a pending appeal and a petition for the issuance of a temporary restraining order with the CA.

Devanadera said the ERC was cognizant of the power industry’s plea to strengthen the ERC.

“We recognized that we have entered a new regime where consumer benefit consciousness has to be given utmost consideration.  In this connection, I have directed the review of all ERC rules with direct impact on electricity consumers and improve thereon, if warranted,” Devanadera said.

Devanadera lauded energy groups, distribution utilities, electric power industry stakeholders and other government agencies, particularly the Philippine Electric Plant Owners Association, Philippine Independent Power Producers Association, National Electrification Administration, National Power Corp., National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, Department of Budget and Management and the Department of Energy for their support in calling for the strengthening rather than abolishing the ERC.

“We will fast-track the review and, if necessary, amend the relevant ERC rules to ensure that the consumers’ welfare are promoted and protected.  As we strengthen the ERC’s processes, we will also make sure that our policies are robust and legally defensible,” Devanadera said.

The Ombudsman ordered anew the suspension of four commissioners of ERC for allegedly tolerating the misuse of bill deposits by allowing its commingling with the capital or operation cost of Manila Electric Co., contrary to the purpose for which the bill deposits was established which was as guarantee for the payment of bills.

The Ombudsman acted on the complaint filed by the National Association of Electricity Consumers for Reforms Inc. represented by Rafael Antonio Acebedo and Ma. Paz Esperanza Coronel.

The suspended commissioners said there was no basis for the findings of the Ombudsman on the issue of the bill deposits.

“The commissioners are deeply saddened at the Order of the Ombudsman suspending them for three months as a penalty for simple neglect of duty on the issue of bill deposits,” the four commissioners said in a joint statement.

“The commissioners maintain that there is no basis for such a finding and that there has never been any neglect of duty on their part,” the statement said.