CA halts suspension of 4 ERC commissioners

February 11, 2018 - 8:56 PM
The Court of Appeals in Manila. PHIL.STAR FILE PHOTO

MANILA – The Court of Appeals (CA) has issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the Office of the Ombudsman’s suspension of the four Commissioners of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

In a resolution dated February 9 penned by Associate Justice Mariflor Punzalan Castillo, the CA’s 9th Division issued the 60-day TRO against the one-year suspension of ERC Commissioners Alfredo Non, Gloria Victoria Yap-Taruc, Josefina Patricia Asirit and Geronimo Sta. Ana.

The appeals court issued the TRO in order not to “impair public service.”

Since the suspension issued by the Ombudsman last December 11, 2017, no replacement was made by Malacanang to replace the said Commissioners.

The CA decided that grave and irreparable injury can be committed if the TRO is not issued in favor of the petitioners-Commissioners.

The TRO resolution was also signed by CA Justices Danton Bueser and Henry Inting.

The ERC commissioners were suspended after they were found guilty of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, aggravated by simple misconduct and simple neglect of duty for allegedly allowing electric utilities like Manila Electric Company (Meralco) to forgo the bidding of their power supply requirements at the public’s expense.

The case stemmed from the decision of the ERC to reset the CSP’s effectivity date from Nov 6, 2015 to April 30, 2016, exempting the power supply agreements (PSA) from undergoing transparent and public bidding ordained in the CSP.

The Ombudsman said the ERC commissioners exercised “gross inexcusable negligence” in delaying the CSP’s implementation since the process was put in place to make the PSAs’ cost more reasonable.

“Hence, accommodating companies’ request to be exempted from CSP was a deviation from respondents’ duty to promote public interest through the CSP requirement,” it said.

The Ombudsman said it was clear that the commissioners favored Meralco through the delay.

“There is sufficient evidence that respondents gave unwarranted benefits to Meralco and other companies by exempting them from the coverage of the CSP requirement, which was already in effect after 06 November 2015. The 45-day period gave Meralco and other companies the opportunity to dispense with CSP,” it said.

In ordering the suspension, the Ombudsman said the ERC commissioners are “administratively liable for conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, aggravated by simple misconduct and simple neglect of duty” based on civil service rules.

It also ruled that the ERC commissioners “cannot feign ignorance” when Meralco took advantage of the resetting of the effectivity date of the competitive selection process.