Ombudsman suspends 4 ERC officials over Meralco bill deposits issue
The Office of the Ombudsman has suspended four officials of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) for allegedly tolerating the misuse of bill deposits of the Manila Electric Company (Meralco).
Based on a resolution made public Sunday, Cherry Bautista-Bolo, graft investigation and prosecution officer III, recommended the three-month suspension of ERC commissioners Alfredo S. Non, Gloria Victoria C. Yap-Taruc, Josefina Patricia M. Asirit and Geronimo D. Sta. Ana.
The officials allegedly failed to properly implement rules on the nature of bill deposits as “mere guarantee in payment of bills,” which must be returned upon termination.
The resolution states that Meralco treated its bill deposits as part of its capital which the four commissioners tolerated.
“Meralco treated the bill deposits as part of its capital without the benefit of a reasonable return of interest to accrue to consumers – a practice which respondents appeared to have acquiesced in,” the resolution read.
The Ombudsman’s suspension order, dated on May 18, stemmed from the complaint filed by consumer group National Association of Electricity Consumers for Reforms, Inc. (Nasecore) against the four commissioners.
“In fact, without the letter of Nasecore, as represented by complainant herein, respondents will continue to ignore their mandate in promoting, safeguarding and protecting the interest of the public consumers by regulating, monitoring or checking Meralco’s utilization of the bill deposits, at the very least,” the resolution stated.
In its complaint, Nasecore said that the consumers have been robbed a total at least P34.84 billion since the Commission of Audit (COA) still has to determine the actual amount accrued compounded interest earned by the bill deposits.
The group said that consumer’s deposits amount to P61.36 billion from 2006-2016, but Meralco only stated P26.51 billion in its financial statement.
The resolution of the Ombudsman said that the four ERC commissioners were not signatories to the ERC Resolution No. 28 in 2010 which led to the reduction of the interest of bill deposits from 10 percent to 0.25 percent from 2011 to 2016.
But the Ombudsman also contested that the commissioners, despite their knowledge of the low interest rates assigned to the bill of deposits, failed to correct the disparity and adopt measures to advance the interest of the consumers by providing a reasonable return on the latter’s deposits.
“Respondents have all the authority to issue resolutions to increase the rate of interest of the bill deposits back to the 10% or to such amount just and equitable under the circumstances, but failed to do so,” the Ombudsman said. /atm
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