PNoy’s ‘tuwid na daan’ advocacy is not so ‘tuwid’ after all

 

President Benigno Aquino

President Benigno Aquino

I had been always praising President Benigno Aquino (PNoy) for his ‘tuwid na daan’ (straight path) advocacy and like a horse with blinders I had been looking straight at it from the monetary point of view.

How else should one react except to utter hosannas for a job well done in going after corrupt government officials who have enriched themselves in office at the expense of the well meaning Filipino taxpayers and the poorest of the poor who were expecting help through the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF, popularly known as ‘pork barrel’), a lump-sum discretionary fund granted to each member of Congress for spending on priority development projects of the Philippine government, mostly on the local level, but got channeled instead into the deep pockets of the politicians themselves and some unscrupulous people who hatched the scam.

We are all witnesses to what happened to ex-Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona and we are all seeing where Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. are now.

One cannot say therefore that PNoy lacked the political will to do what he did, for the events surrounding the ouster of Corona and the detention of the high-profile senators are living testament of his strong ‘tuwid na daan’ advocacy.

But like “Jekyll and Hyde”, PNoy exhibits also another personality that makes his ‘tuwid na daan’ advocacy short of being perfect, and therefore questionable.

Not until I saw this article from Rappler did I realize how blinded I was not to have noticed that PNoy’s ‘tuwid na daan’ advocacy should not only apply strictly to grafters and plunderers who are his political foes, but should also include his unprincipled and dishonorable friends and supporters.

No wonder then why former PNP chief Alan Purisima is still around and why, even, Vice President Jejomar Binay continues to stay in PNoy’s cabinet.

PNoy’s ‘tuwid na daan’ advocacy is not so ‘tuwid’ after all.

For more on PNoy’s unfavorable personality, I am reprinting below an article from Rappler, dated June 20, 2015, and written by Judith Balea.

Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla and President Benigno Aquino

Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla and President Benigno Aquino

INSIDE STORY: The real reason behind Petilla’s resignation

EXCLUSIVE: Sources close to Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla say his resignation was prompted by President Benigno Aquino III’s decision to appoint Geronimo Sta Ana as the 5th commissioner of the Energy Regulatory Commission

Former Customs Commissioner John Sevilla and outgoing Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla didn’t just resign back to back. They had similar reasons for doing so, too.
While Petilla’s resignation was attributed to his plans to run for the Senate, sources close to him said it was, in fact, prompted by President Benigno Aquino III’s decision to appoint Geronimo Sta Ana as the fifth commissioner of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC). Sta Ana is reported to be a nominee of one of the country’s biggest power players, the Aboitiz group.

The appointment didn’t sit well with Petilla because it compromises the ERC and jeopardizes public interest, the sources said.

The ERC is the body tasked by law to protect energy consumers and ensure competition in the electricity sector. It is in the process of determining whether or not power players, among them a unit of the Aboitiz group, colluded in jacking up electricity prices for millions of customers of the Manila Electric Company (Meralco), the Philippines’ largest electricity distributor, in 2013. The ERC’s recent probe found the Aboitiz unit, Meralco, and 11 other power firms liable for “market abuse” but it didn’t say if they were guilty of conspiring with each other.

Petilla officially announced his resignation on April 28, six days after Sevilla tendered his to the Office of the President. Sevilla revealed in an exclusive interview with Rappler that he left the Customs bureau after an appointment he believed was part of a political deal with the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC). The INC, with its 2.25 million followers, is known to be a powerful bloc vote during elections.

On Thursday, June 18, Petilla said he would stay in the department until June 30.

A favor to the Aboitizes?

Petilla actually resigned ahead of Sevilla. At least two independent sources in the power industry, with whom Petilla shared his story, narrated to us what happened in the run-up.

Based on the informed sources’ accounts, Aquino asked Petilla sometime in 2014 to recommend names for the last ERC commissioner post that was vacant for two years. The appointment would complete the ERC’s 5-commissioner line-up. Petilla submitted to the President in November 2014 the name of an engineer who had years of experience in his field and a doctorate under his belt.

The President further asked Petilla to have the person vetted by other Cabinet secretaries, and Petilla willingly obliged.

On March 25, however, things took a surprising turn when a report came out announcing the appointment of 75-year-old Sta Ana, an accountant by profession. “It appeared to be a last-minute insertion,” said one source.

Puzzled by the report, the source said Petilla confronted Aquino about it. He wanted to know who Sta Ana was, what his credentials were, and if he was qualified. What Petilla discovered upset him.

Recalling snippets of the conversation between the two officials, the sources said the President admitted appointing Sta Ana upon the request of the Aboitizes, adding that it was the only time he did the business group any “favor.”

“Sec said he literally almost fell off his seat,” one of the sources recalled, noting it was an obvious case of influence-peddling.

This same source said Sta Ana’s nomination was made through Petilla’s predecessor, former energy secretary and now Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras. Almendras is one of the President’s closest friends who actively helped him in his 2010 presidential campaign. He was also a former official of Aboitiz companies.

This is not the first time that an ERC appointment was linked to Almendras. Josephine Patricia Magpale-Asirit, Almendras’ niece from his sister, was appointed ERC commissioner in July 2013.

Rappler reached out to Almendras and Sta Ana for their side, but they did not respond.

We also sought a comment from Aboitiz group officials and they told us: “It is the President who appoints the ERC commissioners. We cannot comment on this as the Aboitiz group is not involved in the appointment process.”

The President appointed Sta Ana on March 19, but the ERC didn’t announce it until April 8.

Petilla tendered his irrevocable resignation on March 26, effective April 30. He however remains in his post and will be there until the end of the month.

Web of connections

Petilla’s confidantes pointed out the connections among Almendras, Sta Ana, and the Aboitizes – all of whom hail from Cebu.

Founded in the late 1800s, the Aboitiz group is one of the country’s oldest conglomerates that successfully transformed itself from a shipping to a highly diversified company with a focus on power.

Industry data show it now accounts for over 2,700 megawatts or 15% of the Philippines’ total power generation capacity. It comprises the “big three,” along with San Miguel Corporation, which accounts for also 15% of the total capacity, and the Lopez family, which accounts for 14%. In power distribution, Aboitiz owns the second and third largest electric utility firms in the Philippines – Visayan Electric Company and Davao Light & Power Company, respectively.

Like the Aboitizes, Sta Ana is a well-entrenched member of Cebu’s business sector, having served as partner at auditing firms there for more than 11 years. Among other posts he held, Sta Ana was the president of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry from 1992 to 1993 and was a trustee from 1994 to 1997 and 2008 to 2010.

Almendras is the glue that holds them together. Before being appointed to the government as energy secretary in 2010, he spent nearly 3 decades in the private sector in Cebu. He sat as president and CEO of Cebu Holdings and Cebu Property Ventures and Development Corporation, both parts of Ayala Land.

Prior to this, he was treasurer of Aboitiz Company, the privately held company of the Aboitiz family, and Aboitiz Equity Ventures, the family’s publicly listed holding company. He has reportedly maintained his close ties to the Aboitizes, with critics claiming he had favored his former employer in his decisions as energy secretary. The Zamora group, for instance, accused Almendras of keeping Mindanao in darkness by blocking the development of hydropower projects in favor of costlier projects of the Aboitiz family.

One of Almendras’ siblings is a friend of Sta Ana, revealed one source close to Petilla, though the source didn’t identify which sibling. Almendras’ sister, Agnes Almendras-Magpale, is Cebu Vice Governor, while his brother Ruben is the chairman of Cebu City Traffic Operations Management and former Metro Cebu Water District chairman.

Conflict of interest

Petilla didn’t fail to warn the President about the repercussions of his decision and what it means for Filipino energy consumers, sources said.

A questionable appointment puts the ERC’s credibility and competence in question – fundamental things demanded of the regulatory body.

Republic Act No. 9136, known as the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (EPIRA), squarely puts the burden of protecting the interest of consumers and ensuring competitiveness in the power sector on the shoulders of the 5-member commission.

In a nutshell, the ERC’s roles revolve around making sure electricity prices passed on to consumers are rational and at the least cost. The ERC is also tasked to promote true market competition, and prevent and penalize market abuse.

To ensure its independence, it must have commissioners who have neither run for political office nor previously worked for, or are affiliated with, any player in the power industry. It is crucial that individuals with unquestionable integrity are appointed to the body. There is no room for conflict of interest.

Putting a commissioner nominated by a power player at the ERC results in a compromised regulatory body. “How can you be sure that the ERC will act in favor of the public and not the power player?” an industry insider lamented. – Rappler.com

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