Malacañang asks ERC officials to explain 'extravagant' trips

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang has asked 5 Energy Regulatory Commission officials to explain a slew of “extravagant” trips abroad supposedly paid for by a private company regulated by the agency.

In a letter dated August 18. the Office of the President asked 4 commissioners and a director to respond to the allegation within 10 days.

The letter, obtained by Rappler, was addressed to the following:

Acting Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs Ryan Alvin Acosta signed the letter. Rappler verified with the Office of the Executive Secretary that the letter is genuine.

The OP told the officials that they are accused of "receiving money and benefits from private entities regulated by the ERC to fund your extravagant travels abroad." 

The OP said in its letter that the officials are accused of “serious dishonesty, gross neglect of duty, grave misconduct.”

graft complaint was filed against the same officials in July for the same alleged violations. 

Accepting 'gifts'

Malacañang’s letter was in response to a complaint filed by the United Filipino Consumers and Commuters (UFCC). 

UFCC President Rodolfo Javellana Jr said the group is accusing the ERC officials of using funds from the Philippine Electricity Market Corporation (PEMC) to finance trips to countries like Germany, New Zealand, Canada, United States, Singapore, and Australia.

The PEMC is regulated by the ERC and the PEMC funds used were originally meant for the acquisition of monitoring facilities, according to Javellana.

The travels took place from 2009 to 2015.  The biggest expense on a single trip – P3.6 million – was spent to cover the training fees of Non, Taruc, and Layugan for the “36th international training program on utility regulation and strategy” held in Gainesville, Florida, on June 7 to 21, 2014. 

The travel costs supposedly covered by PEMC funds range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands.

The funds were used to pay for training fees, hotel accommodation, per diem, clothing allowance, and transportation.

These funds, alleges UFCC, were taken from the 2% of Market Transaction Fees which PEMC is mandated to turn over to ERC and the Department of Energy to pay for “monitoring facilities.” This is because such facilities are necessary for the ERC and DOE to effectively monitor the electricity market.

UFCC said that the trips abroad do not fit the definition of monitoring facilities.

Aside from trips supposedly funded by PEMC, UFCC alleged that the ERC officials accepted undisclosed amounts from unidentified private entities also regulated by ERC to cover airfare, hotel, registration fees, taxi fees, and per diem of the officials.

Fight vs corruption

Javellana said the ERC officials should be held administratively liable for accepting “gifts” from a person or entity in the course of their official duties or in connection with any operation being regulated, in violation of Republic Act No 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials. 

Asked why he decided to file a complaint with the OP, Javellana told Rappler, "I want to test the sincerity of the President on fighting corruption."

Malacañang had earlier suspended ERC Chairman Jose Vicente Salazar for “insubordination,” following a 90-day investigation.

His suspension was catalyzed by allegations by 4 out of the 5 officials now facing a Malacañang probe for extravagant travels – Non, Yap-Taruc, Magpale-Asirit, and Sta Ana. 

Duterte had demanded the resignation of all ERC commissioners for turning the ERC into a "milking cow" by hiring "hundreds of consultants." After the commissioners, including Salazar, said they would not resign, the President threatened to "abolish" the ERC. 

Duterte has often expressed disdain for government officials who go on expensive trips abroad or flaunt extravagant lifestyles.

On August 22, the President mentioned but did not name a certain official from outside the executive department who rides first-class on planes and books presidential suites at hotels.

He has told his cabinet secretaries never to ride first class unless the airline is familiar with them and grants the seat for free. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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