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Alvarez files bill replacing ERC with Board of Energy 'within control' of President

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez addresses the Leyte Electric Cooperative in August 27, 2016 file photo. HANDOUT PHOTO

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MANILA, Philippines – Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has filed a bill seeking to abolish the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), which earlier got the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte because of allegations of corruption.

“The suspicions raised against the integrity of the ERC, which is primarily entrusted with regulating the country’s electric industry and promoting competition in the market, cannot be ignored,” said Alvarez in filing House Bill No. 5020.

He cited reports on the suicide of ERC director Francisco Jose Villa, Jr. who left letters alleging shady deals and irregular practices in the ERC.

The ERC management later claimed the Commission on Audit had cleared the agency of wrongdoing.

Alvarez proposed to replace the ERC with a Board of Energy, which will be an attached agency of the Department of Energy (DOE).

“This will ensure that the newly created board shall be explicitly within the regulatory arm of the government and specifically, within the direct control and supervision of the President,” he said.

Under the bill, the Board of Energy will perform the functions of the ERC. The board will be under the supervision and control of the DOE and composed of a chairperson and two members to be appointed by the President upon the recommendation of the Energy Secretary.

To ensure no conflict of interest, the bill prohibits the chairperson and members of the board or any of their relatives within the fourth civil degree, consanguinity or affinity, legitimate or common law, from holding any interest whatsoever in any company or entity engaged in the energy business.

If they have involvement in the energy business, they are required to divest all such interests in the energy sector upon assumption of office.

The bill also prohibits the appointment to the board of any person who has worked within three years immediately prior to the appointment, or is working in any private firm engaged in the petroleum or electric industry, or any other entity whose main business is related to or connected with any such firm.

Alvarez, meanwhile, also filed House Resolution No. 776 to look into the corruption allegations within the agency.

He said that while the ERC is tasked to regulate the country’s electricity industry and promote competition in the electricity market, continuous price hikes had raised suspicions of collusion and corruption in the commission.

He said such suspicions were bolstered by Villa’s suicide.

“In his suicide note, Villa claimed that his superiors exerted pressure upon his person to approve contracts that disregard the proper regulatory procedures,” he said.

During the joint investigation conducted last February 8 by the House Committees on Good Government and on Energy, four commissioners bared a “cloud of mistrust and fear” hanging over the agency amid the allegations Villa had raised.

The Villa suicide also prompted the President to call for the resignation of all the commissioners of ERC to pave the way for a total revamp of the body. 

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