Corruption kills – Boo Chanco

I just finished reading the handwritten suicide notes of Francisco Villa, Jr., an official of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and the older brother of my colleague Charie Villa. It’s sad to hear of someone who had to take his life because he couldn’t see himself acceding to corrupt practices in his workplace.

That’s not how it is supposed to be. The good guys should multiply and drive the bad eggs out of our civil service. But l also just read that a deputy customs commissioner was killed in an ambush as he drove home from work. I was told he was a pretty good guy too, a rarity in his agency.

boochanco
BOO CHANCO

The late ERC director Villa wrote a series of three suicide notes starting on Aug. 23, addressed to “my dear Lord Jesus,” a prayer for deliverance from his situation. He expressed worries about his role in reviewing procurement contracts at the power industry watchdog.

“I have fears about my BAC (Bids and Awards Committee) work,” he wrote. “Our mistakes may bring on (Commission on Audit) observations and disallowances…”

He wrote that his “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.”

In his first note, Villa asked the Lord’s help as he “cannot physically bring himself to work” at the ERC due to “fears” about his work as chief of the agency’s Bids and Awards Committee (BAC). Almost three months after he wrote the letters, Villa filed an “application for early retirement” on Nov. 4 at the ERC, citing insomnia and health concerns as reason.

But five days after he submitted his early retirement letter, Villa took his life, the exact way he said he would in his third suicide note, by using his late father’s Smith and Wesson  caliber 38 revolver.

Charie Villa, one of our distinguished reporters at ABS-CBN for the longest time, said her brother was extremely bothered by the way ERC contracts were executed before the actual bidding process.

“Jun felt he had nowhere to go. Jun was pressured to approve contracts for procurement and hiring consultants without proper bidding and procedure as Bids and Awards Committee chairman,” she said in remarks during her brother’s “pa-siyam.”

Villa said her brother dedicated 13 years of his life in the ERC until he became a director. “He thought he would lose his job, which was so valuable to him.”

Charie explained: “You see, he was taught by our parents to do what is right and to fight for it. He loved his ERC family. But when pressured to ‘follow’ ‘maliit na bagay’ which ate the fabric of what he believed in, he couldn’t take the pressure. He loved and needed his job. He worked his way up to become director.”

I can understand that. Their father is the legendary Francisco Villa Sr., a police chief in Pasay, a state prosecutor and who later helped lead the Ombudsman in its early days. The father was also a rare public servant who had taken on very sensitive assignments and stayed clean to the end.

For his part, ERC chair Salazar said he viewed “with serious concern and disappointment allegations being hurled against me in the aftermath of the passing away of director Jun Villa… Out of respect for the late director Villa and for his family, I shall refrain from ascribing any motive to the allegations,” he was reported to have said in a text message sent to the media.

Salazar, an appointee of P-Noy, called for an impartial inquiry by an “objective body” to be fair to the agency and the memory of the late ERC official. “I shall not diminish the dignity and nobility of his memory by putting in question the validity of the insinuations,” he added.

For her part, Charie said she is “not out to bring down Salazar. I just want to help government employees at the bottom of this corrupt bureaucracy who are suffering, values compromised, pressured and nowhere to go. We have always looked at the impact of corruption in a collective sense, but this brings light to its impact on individual lives.”

What can I say? This death is shocking as it is depressing… it is such a waste of a good life. I have expressed my deepest condolences to Charie and her family. The Ombudsman should immediately get to the bottom of this case before the trail gets cold. Jun Villa shouldn’t have sacrificed his life in vain.

My concern is that the ERC is a very important agency… it regulates the power distribution companies. If, the late Jun Villa is right about corruption on the award of an audio visual presentation, which I consider small potatoes, I hate to imagine what is happening every time the ERC issues an order that raises our power rates or instructs power companies to do one thing or another.

The reputation of the ERC had never been stellar since its creation and I was hoping Salazar, a technocrat, would give it a respectable image. Maybe he is clean and his instructions were miscommunicated by underlings, but the doubt is there and the Ombudsman must clear it. The suicide note specifically mentioned him: that he chose to award a project, allegedly through a rigged selection system.

The cost of an audio visual presentation can’t be more than a couple of million pesos and that’s being generous. It is nothing but a more sophisticated Power Point presentation with some bells and whistles.

On the other hand, the impact of ERC orders to the power distributors are in the hundreds of millions of pesos. A few millions for a favorable decision can be considered loose change to keep the boys happy. The earlier the doubts are cleared the better for the consumers, for Salazar and ERC as an institution.

Read the original column Demand and Supply in Philippine Star

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