So what’s the deal with embattled Energy Regulatory Commission chair Jose Vicente Salazar?
Just last month, the Office of the President ordered his preventive suspension for 90 days after facing charges that include serious dishonesty, grave misconduct, violations of the government procurement reform act and the anti-graft law, among others.
Salazar was accused of unilaterally issuing orders in connection with the renewal of seven electric power purchase agreements when the law requires the ERC must act as a collegial body.
Last year, the President called on Salazar and other ERC officials to resign after one of their directors, Francisco Villa Jr., committed suicide due to pressure exerted by other ERC officials on him to approve certain corrupt deals. Villa said Salazar was involved in the alleged rigging of the selection process for an audio visual presentation project in favor of a certain Luis Morelos, said to be a friend of Salazar. The NBI has filed a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman against Salazar and other officials for signing contracts for an infomercial project without the benefit of a public bidding.
But the allegations against Salazar do not stop here.
The Commission on Audit in a report last year said Salazar violated government rules in the hiring of consultants for his office, including the rule against double compensation when he hired then solicitor general Florin Hilbay as consultant together with other government lawyers while they were still holding regular public office. COA’s resident auditors want the ERC to submit legal justifications for its hiring of consultants since Salazar took office.
The auditors also questioned the 102 percent increase in ERC’s expenses for professional consultants, and the absence of legal basis for the salary rates given them. COA asked ERC to follow competitive selection processes in hiring consultants.
According to reports, from 23 consultants in 2014, the number ballooned to 61 when Salazar took over. The ERC spent a total of P9.8 million for consultancy services in 2015, more than double the P 4.8 million it spent for the same item in 2014.
Four of the financial consultants hired by Salazar, namely Miguel dela Peña, Luis Morelos, Corazon Remigio and Camilo Vivero are said to be creative officers of advertising firm Fat Free Inc., which won the questioned bidding for the AVP project mentioned in connection with Villa’s death.
The President has removed government officials for mere allegation of impropriety in the performance of their duties. Just last year, Duterte fired undersecretary Maia Chiara Halmen Reina Valdez, a deputy for Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco, for defying the NFA administrator’s order to suspend rice imports. The President recently fired Dangerous Drugs Board chair Benjamin Reyes for contradicting him on the number of drug users in the country.
Last March, Duterte revealed that he has dismissed 92 government employees as part of his bid to end corruption in government. The list reportedly included his close associate, National Irrigation Administration chief Peter Laviña, who had to quit his post due to corruption allegations.
While it is true that Salazar’s seven-year term of office ends only in 2022 and that the said ERC official and his colleagues have ignored the President’s demand for their resignation which is the only thing that Duterte can do given their security of tenure, Salazar et.al. should know when it is time to pack up their stuff.
Bad for business
The Duterte administration’s commitment to improve telecommunications and internet services in the country is without question.
And this commitment has recently turned into action. The government has already made available free wi-fi service along EDSA, starting off at the MRT-3 stations, in partnership with PLDT-Smart and Globe Telecom.
The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) plans to expand the service to other public areas such as schools, hospitals, airports and parks, including other rail systems like LRT 1 and 2. From 318 sites, the plan is to increase to 13,000 sites nationwide at a cost of P3 billion.
And then a few days ago, the DICT launched the National Broadband Plan which will cost between P77 billion to P200 billion depending on the final details of the network. The National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) has agreed to allow the use of its fiber optic network’s main line for the project.
But the private sector is not to be outdone. Smart Communications has announced that aside from wi-fi connectivity on the 13 MRT platforms, it will also provide connections on the street level along EDSA even between the MRT stations.
PLDT and Smart chairman and CEO Manuel V. Pangilinan has said that they are committed to building cutting-edge digital ICT infrastructure, expanding both fixed and wireless networks, and making these available to Filipinos today in support for government’s vision of a globally competitive country ready for the future.
And just like in the malls, Smart and Globe’s wi-fi services are free for a certain period of time. After using up the free wi-fi minutes, users can continue browsing by purchasing load.
To support private business initiatives and to allow local businesses to thrive, the President is removing obstacles and bottlenecks, including bureaucratic red tape, corruption and unnecessary state intervention.
But one government agency seems not to be getting the message and continues to defy the President’s directives.
The Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) continues to oppose the purchase by PLDT and Globe of San Miguel Corp.’s telecommunications assets, which include valuable radio frequencies now being used on a co-sharing basis by the two telcos to improve internet speed.
The Court of Appeals in fact has issued a temporary restraining order preventing the PCC from reviewing the deal, but the PCC is hell bent on pursuing its own agenda and has questioning the CA’s order.
The deal is proving to be good for consumers, just as the National Telecommunications Commission and the DICT said it would be. Akamai, a leading content delivery network services provider, said that the Philippines posted a 20-percent growth in average connection speeds for the first quarter of 2017.
Balisacan has once said that if he will be the one to burden the business community, then he would rather resign since it is against what he has been working for and what he believes in.
His insistence on reviewing the P70-billion PLDT-Globe-SMC deal has no legal basis and is in fact contrary to PCC’s own interim rules which were in effect at the time the deal was entered into. Balisacan’s getting in the way of improving the state of telco services in the country is proving to be a big burden to business, which is contrary to what he has been saying and to what the President wants.
Not so hidden agenda
SUBIC FESTIVAL – In line with the United Nations World Tourism Organization declaration of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism Development to Highest Ecotourism, the International School of Sustainable Tourism held the first Subic Ecotourism festival at the Subic Bay Exhibition and Convention Center recently. Shown in photo are guest speaker Sen. Cynthia Villar (center) with (from left) Tourism Undersecretary Silvino Tejada, ISST president and former tourism secretary Dr. Mina Gabor, ISST board member Hitesh Mehta and ISST vice president Robert Lim Joseph.
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