Palace: Ducut suspension possible

Natashya Gutierrez
Malacañang says Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Zenaida Ducut, a holdover official from the Arroyo administration, also has the option of resigning voluntarily

SUSPENSION POSSIBLE. Malacañang says it could suspend Energy Regulatory Commission chair Zenaida Cruz-Ducot if warranted. Photo by AFP/Jay Directo

MANILA, Philippines – Following outcry from various groups calling for the resignation of Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) Chair Zenaida Ducut, Malacañang conceded it can suspend Ducut, but only after due process is observed.

On Friday, January 24 Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said the concerns regarding Ducut have reached the President.

“Suspension can be imposed if warranted only after respondent shall have submitted comment to the complaint, and due process shall be observed,” he said.

Coloma said while the Palace could not ask her to leave her position, he acknowledged that Ducut “has the option of voluntary resignation.”

Earlier, the Palace refused to even entertain the idea of removing her from her post.

Ducut, former Pampanga congresswoman appointed to ERC by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has been under fire after the ERC approved a record-high power rate hike which power distributor Manila Electric Company (Meralco) asked for.

Calls for her resignation have mounted since the Supreme Court, the House of Representatives, and the Senate held back-to-back hearings on Meralco‘s inflated charges. Critics suspect it was a result of collusion between Meralco and its suppliers, as well as of ERC’s failure to monitor this alleged collusion.

Meralco has said it was forced to raise prices following the one-month shutdown of the Malampaya gas pipeline, its primary source of suppy. This supposedly forced Meralco to buy at higher prices from the spot market. Malampaya’s shutdown suspiciously coincided with the closing of other power sources.

Ducut is also linked to the pork barrel scam and faces malversation charges before the Ombudsman.

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

That same day, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr also said he would have resigned if he were in her position.

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

Government action

The Palace also reiterated that the power rate hike is “high on the list of the President’s priorities.”

Meralco, the country’s largest power retailer distributing electricity in Luzon, announced in December that it was raising charges by P4.15 per kilowatt-hour (kWh), the biggest power rate hike in recent history.

With ERC’s go signal, Meralco planned to implement the charges in 3 tranches: P2.41 per kWh in December, P1.21 per kWh in February 2014 and P.053 per kWh in March. (READ: 13 things Meralco consumers should know about the hike)

The Supreme Court has since issued a 60-day restraining order on the implementation of the rate hike following petitions filed by various groups.

“The President is determined to get to the bottom of what really happened and to prevent this from happening again,” Coloma said.

He said the government, through the Department of Energy and the ERC, continues to investigate the alleged collusion, market power abuse, and anti-competitive behavior of industry players.

Coloma said the parallel investigation by the Office of Competition of the Department of Justice is also ongoing, and that the administration is reviewing possible amendments to the EPIRA.

“The President continues to focus and study this,” he said. “Government is committed to ensure sufficient supply of electricity to households and industries at reasonable rates and foster a business climate that encourages continuing investments in energy development.” 

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