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ERC chief replies

  • Written by Dennis F. Fetalino
  • Published in Opinion
  • Read: 328

The demise or departure of a key member or official of an agency or organization diminishes the entire institution.

But it should serve as a wake-up call for those left behind to work even better, harder.

This should apply to government agencies and private entities.
   
Last week, PedXing called attention to the controversy hounding the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC). The agency is currently being probed by the Commission on Audit and the National Bureau of Investigation  in the wake of the alleged suicide by one of its directors, the late Atty. Francisco Villa, Jr., erstwhile head of the ERC bidding committee.
   
Three months prior to his death, Villa reportedly wrote a series of letters to God which he called “my suicide notes”. In those letters, he intimated that he was going through intense emotional turmoil. Aggravating his personal emotional problems was pressure from a P400-thousand audio-visual project which, he alleged, was being procured via an irregular process.
   
Object of his allegation was ERC Chairman Jose Vicente Salazar, former national president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines. In last week’s column, PedXing wondered if Salazar knew that Villa was going through severe emotional turmoil, and if he had given his director the sympathy the latter needed at that time instead of pressure to accomplish a task.
   
Following that column, we received this email from Salazar offered a response and explanations. In the spirit of journalistic fairness, we are publishing portions of that email. Salazar wrote:
   
“I personally chose Director Villa to head the ERC bidding committee in charge of the procurement of supplies and services. I did so because I knew his outstanding integrity and sterling reputation as a man of unquestionable character. I thought that, with Director Villa at the helm of that committee, the ERC would be protected from irregularities.
   
In other words, he was, for me, the right man for a difficult job.
   
I did not know that Director Villa was beset by personal problems including a possible illness. I only knew after being told by associates who saw and read the letters he wrote prior to his death. Had I known, I would have definitely spared him from the demands of the job.
   
‘’I agree that I should have been more sensitive to the personal problems of those who work with and under me. I wish I had seen the signs that Director Villa was going through a personal ordeal. It was not easy. Director Villa always appeared to be at his best when he was at work. I thought everything was fine and that he enjoyed attending to the immense tasks I placed on his shoulders. I may have been wrong.
   
You are right. A leader needs to balance the demands of meeting goals and exercising compassion. In this instance, the balance may have been tilted in favor of meeting goals. This is a failure on my part. I have taken full responsibility for this one.
   
‘’You asked whether or not the audio-visual project was important. It is important because there is a need for the public to understand the role of the ERC in their lives. It is important but not urgent. However, my communication style appears to make everything sound urgent. Again, mistake on my part.”
   
Ped Xing can only commiserate with Salazar. He has learned important lessons here, but the tuition has definitely been very expensive.
   
We hope that the ERC would be able to survive this tough ordeal.
   
In fairness to Salazar, media is aware that ERC has marked some major gains under his watch. For example, distribution firms are now compelled to bid out their power requirements. This means the public gets to know from whom they buy the power they supply to our homes and businesses and at what price they bought it.
   
This makes sure that power distributors do not buy their supply only from sister-power generating companies. We believe that what Salazar has done is to make the sister-companies so-called mere suppliers of last resort.
   
This is important since the cost of buying power is passed on to us. Salazar’s move makes sure these companies do not collude to sell us power bought at higher cost to us and at higher profits to them.
   
Salazar has also pushed for what has been reported in media as the Retail Competition and Open Access system. It appears power companies now have to compete for contracts to supply the electricity requirements of large consumers. What ERC wants to happen is for the size of this market to keep growing until almost all electricity consumers get to choose who to buy power from.
   
Interestingly, industry observers had said that Salazar himself made major moves to clean up the ERC when he took over about a year ago. Salazar is said to have given quite a few officials the walking paper after uncovering shenanigans in the agency.
   
The sad thing is ERC’s gains have now been overshadowed by the controversy it is now facing.
   
Salazar will have to live with that. Before assuming the top ERC post, he should have known that the job requires not just competence but also tons of prudence. He may not be corrupt but he is definitely careless.
   
He is right. He has to take full responsibility for the mess the ERC now faces. He alone can and must.
   
PedXing, however, wishes to thank the ERC chairman for taking note of this column’s views on this controversy.