SC asked to void TRO vs. suspension of 4 ERC execs

MANILA A consumer group asked the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday to nullify the decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) stopping the suspension of four commissioners of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

In a 17-page petition for certiorari, the Alyansa Para sa Bagong Pilipinas, Inc. (APBPI) said there is a need to nullify the 60-day injunction issued by the CA's 9th Division and stop its implementation since the appellate court committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it issued the order.

APBPI also sought the high court's immediate issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) or a status quo ante order to prevent the CA from implementing its assailed resolution pending final resolution of the petition.

In a resolution dated Feb. 9 penned by Associate Justice Mariflor Punzalan Castillo, the CA's Ninth Division issued a 60-day TRO against the one-year suspension of ERC Commissioners Alfredo Non, Gloria Victoria Yap-Taruc, Josefina Patricia Asirit, and Geronimo Sta. Ana.

The appellate court issued the TRO so as not to "impair public service".

Since the suspension issued by the Ombudsman last Dec. 11, 2017, no replacement has been made by Malacanang to fill up the commissioners' posts.

The CA decided that grave and irreparable injury could be committed if the TRO is not issued in favor of the petitioner-commissioners.

The TRO resolution was also signed by CA Justices Danton Bueser and Henry Inting.

In its petition to the SC, the APBPI argued that the CA has no discretion to stay a decision of the Ombudsman and that the TRO is an encroachment on the rule-making powers of the Ombudsman under the Constitution, which grants the Office of the Ombudsman the authority to promulgate its own rules of procedure.

The group cited the Court's ruling in Ombudsman vs. Samaniego, where it was held that the appealable decisions of the Office of the Ombudsman are immediately executory pending appeal and may not be stayed by the filing of an appeal or the issuance of an injunctive writ.

The Ombudsman's decision in imposing the penalty of suspension for one year is immediately executory pending appeal. It cannot be stayed by the mere filing of an appeal to the CA, the petitioner insisted.

In this case, the public respondent committed or acted with grave abuse of discretion in issuing the assailed resolution granting a TRO against an appealable decision of the Office of the Ombudsman, when jurisprudence is clear on the matter and the principle as to the nature of such Ombudsman decision is already settled . The assailed order was issued with grave abuse of discretion and was patently erroneous, it added.

The petition named the appellate court as public respondent and the four ERC commissioners as private respondents.

The ERC commissioners were suspended after they were found guilty of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, aggravated by simple misconduct and simple neglect of duty for allegedly allowing electric utilities, such as the Manila Electric Company (Meralco), to forgo the bidding of their power supply requirements at the public's expense.

The case stemmed from the decision of the ERC to reset the competitive selection process' (CSP) effectivity date from Nov. 6, 2015 to April 30, 2016, exempting the power supply agreements (PSA) from undergoing transparent and public bidding ordained in the CSP.

The Ombudsman said the ERC commissioners exercised gross inexcusable negligence in delaying the CSP's implementation since the process was put in place to make the PSAs' cost more reasonable.

Hence, accommodating companies' request to be exempted from CSP was a deviation from respondents' duty to promote public interest through the CSP requirement, it said.

The Ombudsman said it was clear that the commissioners favored Meralco through the delay.

There is sufficient evidence that respondents gave unwarranted benefits to Meralco and other companies by exempting them from the coverage of the CSP requirement, which was already in effect after 06 Nov. 2015. The 45-day period gave Meralco and other companies the opportunity to dispense with CSP, it said.

In ordering the suspension, the Ombudsman said the ERC commissioners are administratively liable for conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, aggravated by simple misconduct and simple neglect of duty based on civil service rules.

It also ruled that the ERC commissioners cannot feign ignorance when Meralco took advantage of the resetting of the effectivity date of the CSP.

Source: Philippine News Agency

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