Remove Ducut, Aquino asked

Malacañang maintains there is a process that needs to be followed and she will be given the chance to respond to the accusations

REMOVE DUCUT. President Benigno Aquino III is asked to remove ERC Chairman Zenaida Ducut from her post for approving Meralco's power rate hike. File photo by Malacañang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Philippines – Take her off her post.

This is the cry of Akbayan against Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) Chairperson Zenaida Ducut.

On Thursday, January 23, Akbayan lawmakers Walden Bello and Barry Gutierrez filed a complaint against Ducut before the Office of the President, urging President Benigno Aquino III to remove her from office for “gross neglect of duty and incompetence in protecting the interest of the power consumers.”

Under Ducut, the ERC approved a steep power rate hike which power company Manila Electric Co (Meralco) asked for. The power company says it was forced to raise prices following the one-month shutdown of the Malampaya gas pipeline, which made transmission more expensive. Its shutdown suspiciously coincided with the closing of other power sources.

“Ducut is guilty of gross neglect of duty and incompetence by tacitly approving without the barest hint of due process Meralco’s unprecedented power rate hike,” Bello said.

“Her failure is stupefying considering that the increase in Meralco’s generation charge for the month of November 2013 was the largest under the regulatory regime implemented by the EPIRA and administered by the ERC. It was incumbent upon Ducut being the head of the ERC to have conducted an immediate investigation into the matter.”

Bello also slammed the ERC for failing to tell the public about the rate hike.

Additionally, Bello said the ERC should have required power suppliers to provide Meralco with replacement capacity and electrical output during forced outages “to ensure the quality, reliability, security and affordability of the supply of electric power” as required by law.

Ducut, who enjoys a fixed term after being appointed by former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has so far ignored calls for her to step down. Her term is supposed to end in 2015.

PNoy has power

Because of this, Akbayan wants Aquino to remove Ducut from her post, which he is allowed to do under the Constitution.

“The Office of the Deputy Secretary for Legal Affairs under the Office of the President has the power to directly investigate graft and corrupt cases as well as grave negligence of duty of Presidential appointees in the Executive Departments including heads of government-owned and controlled corporations,” Gutierrez said.

As a presidential appointee, Ducut “comes under the disciplinary jurisdiction of the President, who is well within his rights to order an investigation into matters that require his informed decision,” Gutierrez added.

Akbayan also hit Ducut for her alleged involvement in the multi-billion pork barrel scam.

Ducut represented the 2nd district of Pampanga from 1995 to 2004. In the pork barrel scam, she was tagged by whistleblowers as a conduit between alleged mastermind Janet Lim Napoles and some congressmen. She faces malversation charges before the Ombudsman.

Napoles is accused of conniving with lawmakers to channel their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to her bogus non-governmental organizations in exchange for hefty kickbacks. Ducut allegedly collected kickbacks for helping Napoles get endorsements from members of Congress.

No Palace pressure

This is not the first time sectors have called for Ducut’s removal. In December, the head of the House of Representatives’ energy committee, Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo Umali, said the embattled official should at least take a leave of absence after being implicated in the pork barrel scam.

Despite the calls for her removal however, the Palace is sticking with its original statement and maintains that it cannot pressure Ducut to leave her post.

On Thursday, Presidential Communications and Operations Office Secretary Sonny Coloma said there is a process to determine whether Ducut is indeed guilty. He also said she would be given “due process.”

“She will be given the right to answer the accusations against her,” he said. –