ERC chief snubs House power rate hike hearing
Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) Chair Zenaida Cruz-Ducut, an alleged agent of pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles, snubbed Tuesday’s House hearing on Manila Electric Co.’s hefty rate increase of P4.15 per kilowatt hour where lawmakers took turns hitting her proxies for failing to defend the public interest.
Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, committee on energy chair, said Ducut did not explain her failure to attend the House probe, which was held a day after the ERC approved the staggered implementation of Meralco’s rate hike over three months starting December.
But Umali said Ducut could not be compelled to attend the hearing because she sent ERC Commissioner Josefina Patricia M. Asirit and ERC Executive Director Francis Juan to represent her.
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. said Ducut had no excuse not to attend the hearing because 5 million Meralco customers would like to know why the ERC did not question the power rate increase despite claims of collusion among power industry players.
“This is the public interest that the ERC is bound to protect, not the profits of industry players,” said Barzaga.
Several lawmakers, including House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., Barzaga and Umali, previously asked Ducut to take a leave of absence after she was implicated in the malversation charges filed in the Office of the Ombudsman.
The National Bureau of Investigation accused Ducut of acting as a broker of several former lawmakers, including resigned Customs Commissioner Rufino Biazon, who transferred their pork barrel funds to dubious NGOs allegedly controlled by Napoles.
Ducut used to be the representative of Pampanga’s second district, a post taken over by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo after she appointed the former to the ERC.
“I am disappointed with the ERC because it has become a mere rubber stamp of Meralco and power producers instead of defending the rights of consumers by immediately stopping the power rate hike,” Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said.
During the hearing, Asirit said the ERC was in no position to approve or reject Meralco’s rate hike because the rules allowed it to automatically pass on any increase in fuel costs to consumers.
Asirit claimed that the ERC did its part by implementing the rate hike over three months to minimize its impact on the public.
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