December 11, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

President seen as appropriate authority to settle ERC infighting

THE PRESIDENT is the proper authority to put a halt to infighting at the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), the head of the Senate energy committee said, pointing to the President’s power to appoint the agency’s officials.

“The appointing authority is Malacañang. We have to go back to the appointing authority and they have the power to do it,” Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate committee on energy, told reporters on the sidelines of a seminar on energy issues on Thursday in Laoag, Ilocos Norte.

“Whatever the facts are, then that would be the basis for whatever decision Malacañang will make,” he said.

Mr. Gatchalian said his committee was also “closely monitoring” what is transpiring at the House of Representatives, which is investigating allegations of graft after an ERC director took his own life last year and left behind notes claiming corruption in agency’s bids and awards.

“I am in close contact with our congressional counterparts. They were first to look into the matter, so we will monitor them very closely,” he said.

“My guiding principle is what’s good for consumers,” he added.

He made his comments after the Department of Energy (DoE) on Wednesday said a meeting had been held between the ERC commissioners and the Energy secretary on Tuesday “to address the concerns of the public and the electricity industry sector.”

“I don’t know how you’ll do it but you have to do it,” the DoE earlier said in a statement, quoting Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi. It referred to the issues surrounding ERC as “internal squabbles.” Mr. Gatchalian described it as “personal differences.”

The conflict is reportedly between ERC Chairman and Chief Executive Jose Vicente B. Salazar and the four commissioners: Alfredo J. Non, Gloria Victoria C. Yap-Taruc, Josefina Patricia A. Magpale-Asirit and Geronimo D. Sta. Ana.

The DoE said the commissioners submitted to Mr. Cusi a report, which the department was studying. It also said that in previous meetings with the commissioners, he asked the ERC chairman to ensure that the ERC is working.

“The DoE respects the ERC as a strong and independent institution. However, public interest comes first,” Mr. Cusi said in the tersely written DoE statement.

In the succeeding meetings with the commissioners, the DoE “will push for a more definite set of outputs from the ERC aside from pushing to resolve the internal differences” within the commission.

“The delays incurred by the ERC must be addressed immediately. We cannot have internal squabbles (that come) in the way of the interest of the public,” Mr. Cusi said. -- Victor V. Saulon