Puzzle in the ERC
“Isang malaking palaisipan” (great puzzle) was how one netizen described reports that Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) Executive Director Francisco Villa Jr. took his own life owing to pressure in the approval of agency procurement contracts minus proper bidding and procedure. Villa reportedly left behind three suicide notes, one of which pointed to a specific transaction that did not pass through proper bidding but was approved by ERC Chairman and CEO Jose Vicente Salazar.
People are baffled by Villa’s suicide because as a sibling of veteran journalist and former ABS-CBN executive Charie Villa, he could have leaned on her connections in exposing the stink inside the ERC.
As a media worker for decades, I know that people who know the inner workings of rotten institutions often seek trusted media friends or contacts if they are pushed to the wall. By blowing the whistle on corrupt practices usually perpetrated by echelon, whistleblowers help curb bribery. In most cases, insiders expose the illegal acts as a means of self-preservation.
When Benhur Luy came forward in 2014 to expose the pork barrel scam perpetrated by Janet Lim Napoles in conspiracy with certain congressmen and senators, his disclosures were closely followed by the Philippine Daily Inquirer. In less than a year, three senators were indicted for plunder and for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act before the Sandiganbayan. Napoles, the alleged mastermind, is a co-accused in these separate cases that charged the senators for pocketing more than P500 million through the bogus foundations controlled by Mrs. Napoles.
As a star witness to the P10 billion pork barrel scam, Benhur Luy is under the Justice Department’s Witness Protection Program.
By failing to make a public disclosure on the reported shenanigans inside the ERC, did Francisco Villa Jr. doubt the integrity of the WPP? What about his media connection? Will the answers be buried together with the ill-fated ERC director?
In the wake of the tragic news, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered all ERC officials to quit, “citing both internal and intelligence reports indicating systemic corruption” in the agency. He also issued a veiled threat to impair the ERC through Congress which can hold approval of the agency budget until further notice.
By the way, the current chairman and CEO Jose Vicente Salazar assumed only last year after the expiry of the term of the agency’s past chair, Zenaida Ducut.
Ducut, a former Pampanga representative, led the energy regulatory body from 2008–2015. Incidentally, she is also impleaded in a graft case related to the PDAF scam involving former South Cotabato Rep. Arthur Pingoy Jr.
Media reports say Ducut is the contact of Napoles to lawmakers for funneling their Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) to ghost projects of Napoles’ bogus NGOs. According to another whistleblower pocketed P40 million in pork barrel commissions.
Incidentally, it was during the regime of Zenaida Ducut that the ERC was practically flooded with cases lodged by private individuals and organizations against erring power distributors in various parts of the country, in particular in Metro Manila which is being serviced by Meralco.
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This corner welcomes the appointment of former Party list congressman and electric cooperative executive, Edgar Rama Masongsong as the new National Electrification Administration (NEA) chief. Masongsong was the lead nominee of the electric cooperatives sector in Congress under the 1-CARE Party list.
Party list reps usually don’t invite the attention of mainstream media, but I think Edgar Masongsong showed political mettle when he crossed swords with former Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla during the previous administration.
In 2014 Petilla asked Congress to grant then president Aquino emergency powers to address the looming power shortage expected to hit Luzon in the summer of 2015 or 8 months ahead of the energy crisis. Masongsong objected to Petilla’s call even if Aquino’s congressional allies were already falling in line to support the knee-jerk solution.
Masongsong described the proposal as discriminatory because there were no such calls when Mindanao suffered from recurring brownouts and blackouts from 2010 to 2014. Instead of invoking emergency powers, Masongsong called Petilla to work for a determined implementation of the so-called Interruptible Load Program (ILP), a government initiative aimed to address imminent power shortages and augment the limited power requirements. The program had been successfully implemented in Visayas and Mindanao but the Energy czar may have been more focused on a senatorial bid that he wanted the Chief Executive to do the dirty job.
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