POSTSCRIPT / March 27, 2007 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Judicial cleanup nets another CA big fish

ANOTHER ONE: Justice Elvi John Asuncion was the second member of the Court of Appeals to be fired by the Supreme Court. He was sacked for, of all things, ignorance of the law!

The first to be kicked out, before Asuncion , was CA Justice Demetrio Demetria. He was found guilty of interceding for the accused in a big drug case.

Asuncion was appointed in 1999 by then President Joseph “Erap” Estrada, together with another justice who is still sitting in the CA. At that time, both appointees had pending serious administrative cases.

That was why for their first two years in office, the salaries of the two justices were withheld while they were awaiting the resolution of their cases.

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SAD EPISODE: How the two got nominated by the Judicial and Bar Council and appointed by the president remains a sad chapter in judicial history.

The JBC had, and still has, a rule that bars the nomination of those with pending serious administrative cases.

Before his nomination and appointment, Asuncion was a mere director in the Office of the Ombudsman. He was not even a Deputy Ombudsman.

In any event, the JBC must share the responsibility for the appointment of Asuncion and other unqualified jurists. The JBC should have resisted the importuning of a then powerful lady-sponsor who was said to be very close to Estrada.

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ABANGAN: But all is not lost. The present JBC recently showed its courage when it threw out, despite extreme pressure, the application of Miriam Defensor Santiago to be chief justice and of Agnes Devanadera to be a member of the Supreme Court.

Many lawyers and sitting judges have expressed hope that the JBC will demonstrate the same independence and probity when it chooses nominees to fill the vacancy to be created with the impending retirement of SC Justice Romeo Callejo

Of the 14 names being screened by the JBC, one is the CA co-appointee of Asuncion and another a senior CA justice whose spouse is one of those recently sacked by the Supreme Court.

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DEGENERATION: On the political front, do not be surprised if the turnout of voters in the May 14 elections drops to alarming levels.

A spreading feeling is that most of the candidates for senator are second-raters, discredited wheeler-dealers, opportunists, political butterflies or surrogates of political dynasties.

The usual question is “Wala na bang iba?” The usual comment is “Pare-pareho silang lahat.”

And then, this is one season when the incidence of violence is abnormally high, and when muckraking and mudslinging emerge as the daily campaign fare instead of serious discussion of solid issues.

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FAMILY ISSUES: In the most recent case of mudslinging, no less than First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo became a victim of a demolition job, orchestrated apparently by political enemies of his wife the President.

Even his brother Iggy, who sits as congressman representing his district in Negros Occidental, and his family were not spared from underhanded personal attacks. Raking up a man’s domestic problems may enliven the political debate, but not ennoble it.

As early as 2002, Mike already found himself the focus of so many negative reports on his alleged extramarital liaisons, unexplained wealth, and meddling in state affairs. Unfortunately for him, many people are disposed to believe the worst said of him.

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CALLOUS: Until now, Napocor still refuses to accede to the demands of electricity consumers to reduce power rates by up to P2 per kilowatt-hour.

Callous as it is, Napocor has filed with the Energy Regulatory Commission a petition for only a 31-centavo/kwh reduction in power rates.

What Napocor is trying to do is pocket its gargantuan savings resulting from the improvement of the peso exchange rate vis-à-vis the US dollar. It is treating the windfall as profits instead of savings.

There is a rule that savings resulting from an improvement in the peso-dollar exchange rate should be plowed back to consumers in the form of reduced retail prices. How come the gang running Napocor refuses to follow this rule?

And how come the ERC is allowing this short-changing of consumers?

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FOREX GAINS: Based on recent figures, Napocor has been withholding almost P90 billion in over-charges in the form of forex gains for 2006 alone. In 2005, its over-collection due to the currency adjustment was around P65 billion.

If indeed Napocor had been true to its mandate to serve and protect electricity consumers, it should have immediately asked for a rate reduction to reimburse its millions of electricity consumers of the over-charges.

But it did not. Instead, it treated the over-charges as its own profit which gave the wrong impression that Napocor was making progress in the management of the power firm.

Had it not been for newspaper reports quoting ERC chairman Rodolfo Albano as telling Napocor to move for rate reduction to effect the long overdue adjustment and stop treating forex gains as profit, Napocor would not have filed a petition.

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AUTO-REDUCTION: The Department of Energy should spearhead moves to have the Implementing Rules and Regulation of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) allowing an automatic reduction of forex gains to be finally applied.

Energy Undersecretary Merlinda Ocampo was among those who crafted the IRR. Maybe she should consider working on revisions, lest she, too, would be accused of consorting with the Napocor mafia.

The rules on full-blown public hearings should just specifically cover rate increase petitions that have a direct bearing on the returns of electric utilities; and should exclude those that purely set on cost recoveries.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 27, 2007)

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