Palace suspends ERC chairman for ‘insubordination’

Pia Ranada
Palace suspends ERC chairman for ‘insubordination’
ERC Chairman Jose Vicente Salazar is suspended for 4 months without pay for ignoring an appointment by Malacañang

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang slapped a 4-month suspension on Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) Chairman and CEO Jose Vicente Salazar after finding him guilty of “insubordination.”

Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Marie Banaag announced this on Thursday, August 3, during a Palace news briefing.

The suspension order, signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea on Wednesday, August 2, says Salazar will be suspended for 4 months without pay.

The suspension is the result of a 90-day investigation into supposed cases of abuse of power by Salazar, as alleged by fellow ERC commissioners.

Malacañang imposed a 90-day preventive suspension on Salazar last May so that the Palace investigation could proceed unimpeded and with no tampering of documents by the ERC official.

The May suspension order said Salazar was charged with “serious dishonesty, gross neglect of duty, and grave misconduct.”

On Thursday, Banaag said Salazar was found guilty of insubordination for “not obeying” Malacañang’s appointment of ERC Commissioner Geronimo Sta Ana as Officer-in-Charge (OIC) Executive Director and instead appointing ERC Davao City chief Ronaldo Gomez to the position.

Banaag said the 4-month suspension is not an extension of the 90-day preventive suspension.

“This is separate. This is the penalty,” she said.

Aside from ignoring Malacañang’s appointment of Sta Ana, Salazar has been accused of “unilaterally issuing orders” on the renewal of 7 Electric Power Purchase Agreements.

This is a violation of Republic Act 9136 or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) which states that the ERC must act as a collegial body, with decisions made by all commissioners, not just one. 

Salazar also supposedly persuaded or influenced other officials to violate the law. 

The Palace’s May preventive suspension order specifically cited the example of ERC Bids and Awards Committee Chairman Francisco Jose Villa, who committed suicide allegedly after being forced to disregard proper procedure in approving contracts and hiring consultants. 

In June, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed a complaint at the Office of the Ombudsman accusing Salazar and 3 other officials of signing contracts for an infomercial project without making the contract go through public bidding.

This is a violation of the Government Procurement Reform Act and Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

Since November 2016, ERC officials have become the subject of President Rodrigo Duterte’s public tirades.

He accused its commissioners of turning the ERC into a “milking cow” by hiring “hundreds of consultants.” He also demanded the resignation of these officials. After the commissioners, including Salazar, said they would not resign, he threatened to “abolish” the ERC. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.