Suspended ERC commissioners going back to work

By Myrna M. Velasco – February 11, 2018, 10:00 PM
from Manila Bulletin

On the strength of a 60-day temporary restraining order (TRO) rendered by the Court of Appeals (CA), the four suspended Commissioners of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) will be going back to work to act on the regulatory body’s heaps of unfinished business.

The Commissioners given legal imprimatur to return to their functions for the next two months are ERC Commissioners Alfredo J. Non, Gloria Victoria Yap-Taruc, Josefina Patricia M. Asirit and Geronimo D. Sta Ana.

To fully spare them from a one-year suspension, the four Commissioners have also petitioned for injunctive relief – but that is a pending matter for resolution yet at the Court. Non and Yap-Taruc themselves are due for retirement in July, hence, the one year suspension will no longer be fully covered by their tenure in office.

Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi noted that with the return of the Commissioners, “ERC can already function to resolve urgent matters.”

While these four officials are anticipated to be back at their desks very soon, all industry players have their eyes set on whether or not the ERC will act on the controversial pending petitions of Manila Electric Company (Meralco) on approval of their power supply agreements (PSAs) on advancing power plant projects.

It had been the act of the four Commissioners on extending the deadline of the competitive selection process (CSP) policy that triggered their one-year suspension, consequentially because Meralco had been able to negotiate PSAs without the benefit of CSP within that extension leeway.

The CA itself has indicated in the ruling that the Commissioners are needed in their work because they have several matters to attend to at the Commission, including some filings against the country’s biggest power utility firm.

“Indeed, the petitioners have presented evidence/documents showing that there are currently numerous matters that require action by the Commission but are unacted upon in view of their suspension,” the appellate court said.

It emphasized that such cases include “numerous consumer complaints and cases (among which were against Meralco), numerous provisional requests for action on expiring provisional authorities to operate (PAOs) and certificates of compliance of GENCOs (generation companies) for renewal, procurement services, orders/notices of pending hearings and actions on other pending cases.”

The court opined that its decision favoring the four Commissioners had been anchored on avoiding “serious and irreparable disruption in the operation of the ERC and to prevent adverse repercussions on the power industry as a whole.”

The CA similarly indicated that the “alternative solution” to the impasse at the ERC should have been temporary appointments by President Duterte, yet it noted that “up to now, no such temporary appointments have been made.”

Nevertheless, Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate who is mainly opposing ERC’s act on the Meralco supply deals, had questioned the CA’s restraining order, stressing that “why would the CA jump the gun on the Office of the President as to when and who will be appointed as temporary or acting Commissioners?”

It added that the appellate court also thwarted “the implementation of the executory decision of the Office of the Ombudsman.”

“Restraining the executory suspension of the erring Commissioners may be interpreted as undue interference on the powers and independence of the Office of the Ombudsman, as well as the Office of the President,” the solon said.