House probe on Villa suicide over ERC corruption turns emotional
Commissioners in the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) turned emotional as they shared how they were hounded with the death of director Francisco Jose Villa Jr., who killed himself allegedly due to corruption in the commission.
The House of Representatives on Tuesday began its inquiry in aid of legislation on the corruption allegations that drove Villa to commit suicide Nov. 9 last year.
ERC Chairperson and CEO Jose Vicente Salazar, who was named in Villa’s suicide note for favoring a certain Luis Morelos for the ERC’s audio-visual presentation (AVP) in a “rigged selection system,” refuted the allegations against him.
Salazar said Morelos was a friend who volunteered to provide free services for the AVP of the ERC to be shown in the country’s cinemas, to inform the public of the commission’s mandate.
“I don’t think there is something unusual with a person wanting to help us… After the death of Mr. Jun Villa, I asked why is he providing us with all these concepts. He said, ‘kawanggawa lang,’ (This is only charity work),” Salazar said.
The other commissioners teared up as they recalled how they were dragged into the controversy even though they had nothing to do with it.
Commissioner Josefina Patricia Asirit said the commissioners did not know about the alleged shredding of documents in the aftermath of Villa’s death.
She hinted, however, at how Salazar tried to stop the commissioners from pursuing an internal inquiry into Villa’s death.
“With respect to shredding of documents, we don’t know anything about that… On the ability of the chair to stop us from making an inquiry, there was such an incident when the chair was also on leave,” Asirit said.
Asirit said the chairperson actually “demanded” that the inquiry be stopped, and that it was difficult to continue the inquiry because of an “atmosphere of mistrust” by the personnel to come near the commissioners.
“The chairperson demanded that we stop the inquiry. It was not a gesture,” Asirit said.
“It’s difficult to interview personnel because they refuse to see with us. There was an atmosphere of mistrust, fear. Basically, it was a heavy cloud that weighed upon the shoulders of each of us,” Asirit said.
Turning emotional, Commissioner Gloria Victoria Yap-Taruc said Salazar approached her about the planned inquiry.
“Earlier, on that December 12 meeting, we had the chair came to us. He went to me first and he said, ‘Are you crucifying me by doing an inquiry?’” Yap-Taruc said.
“I said, we’re doing this inquiry in order to shed light on what happened,” she added.
Commissioner Alfredo Non said the commission put on hold the internal inquiry in response to Salazar’s request to defer the inquiry pending the results of the investigation by the National Bureau of Investigation.
In his defense, Salazar said he only wanted other agencies to investigate the ERC because an internal inquiry would be self-serving.
“I should admit that I approached members of the commission. And I asked them that we should allow these to investigate us, because an internal inquiry would be self-serving,” Salazar said.
Villa, 54, on Nov. 9 took a .38 caliber revolver and shot himself fatally in the Parañaque City residence he shared with his sister, veteran broadcast journalist Charie Villa.
Bagong Henerasyon Rep. Bernadette Herrera Dy has filed a resolution urging Congress to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation on Villa’s suicide that was linked to the corruption in ERC.
In his suicide note, Villa as Bids and Awards Committee chair pointed at the alleged rigged selection system for contracts in the ERC at the helm of the chairman and CEO Salazar.
“My greatest fear in the bids and awards committee is the AVP by Luis Morelos which the chairman and CEO, Jose Vicente B. Salazar, chose through a rigged selection system. That will be a criminal act,” Villa wrote.
“I have fears about my BAC (bids and awards committee) work… Our mistakes may bring on [Commission on Audit] observations and disallowances. Those may affect me financially,” Villa added.
Villa’s sister Charie earlier said her brother was “pressured to approve contracts for procurements and hiring consultants without proper bidding and procedure as bids and awards committee chairman.”
READ: Duterte: I heard of ERC corruption even before Villa’s suicide | ERC officials defy Duterte, won’t resign
President Rodrigo Duterte had urged Salazar and other ERC officials to resign amid alleged rampant corruption in the commission, and even called on Congress to dissolve or reorganize the ERC as the state power regulator.
Salazar has sought an audience with the President to clarify the issue, and vowed to take “appropriate actions that would protect the organization.” But Salazar and other ERC officials refused to heed the President’s orders for them to resign. RAM/rga
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