New details are now emerging in connection with the 90-day suspension imposed on ERC Chairman Jose Vicente Salazar by Malacañang, which came barely a week after Salazar’s return from a vacation in Europe.
In the suspension order issued by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, the embattled Chairman was accused of a litany of charges, including serious dishonesty, grave misconduct, and violations of at least five laws – but no specifics were given as to his illegal acts.
As it turns out, one of the accusations leveled against Salazar is a case of rate-fixing, or his approval of seven power contract extensions between FDC Misamis Corporation and seven Mindanao-based electric cooperatives under highly suspicious circumstances.
First, Salazar approved these deals in secret. The ERC is a collegial body, and is mandated to protect consumers by regulating electricity prices. The ERC Chairman, however, bypassed his colleagues and unilaterally authorized the extensions without first subjecting them to review.
Second, Salazar approved these deals with undue haste. FDC filed its applications on January 24, 2017 and Salazar approved them two days later, on January 26. It is simply impossible for the applications to undergo sufficient review in that abbreviated amount of time.
Third, two of the electric cooperatives – DORECO of Davao Oriental and LANECO of Lanao del Norte – disavowed FDC’s applications and asked the ERC to reject their extensions in February 2017. This means that the cooperatives no longer wanted to buy electricity from FDC.
Fourth, despite the objections of DORECO and LANECO, Salazar still asked the Commission en banc through lawyers to ratify the extensions in March 2017. This means that he was fully aware that his unilateral approvals were invalid – which is probably why he did not have them uploaded to the ERC website, in violation of the EPIRA Law.
So why did Salazar, a lawyer and former Justice Undersecretary to then-Secretary Leila de Lima, knowingly approve the FDC deals in secret, in haste, against the disavowal of two cooperatives, then later seek ratification by his colleagues?
Remember that Salazar just got back from a European vacation? Well it appears that, as far back as January 20, 2017, he asked permission from Malacañang to go on this “spiritual retreat” in posh Greece and Italy from April 9 to 25, 2017.
In response, the Office of the President approved his request to travel “at no cost to government” on – get this – January 24, 2017, or two days before Salazar illegally approved the disputed FDC deals!
In other words, as soon as he was allowed to go on a summer vacation in Greece and Italy at no cost to government, Salazar unilaterally, secretly, and hastily approved the questionable FDC deals despite knowing fully well that this was illegal.
Could this be why Malacañang has finally decided to place him under suspension? Because if it had any inkling when it approved Salazar’s request that his European vacation would be funded by illegal FDC deals, we truly believe that the staunchly anti-corruption President Duterte would have made his head roll first.