Think Locally

The confirmation of Jose Rene Almendras as energy secretary was deferred again Tuesday. This time, over bribery that happened before he joined the government.

His only connection with an accusation of bribery against former Iloilo governor Niel Tupas Sr is that it was investigated by the National Electrification Administration (NEA). As energy secretary, Almendras is also NEA chairman.

Supposedly, Tupas gave at least one official of an Iloilo electric cooperative P150,000 to approve a contract with a power supplier in 2009.

“I wasn’t even around when the decisions were made. I wasn’t around when the contracts were written. I wasn’t around when all of these things were happening. I cannot possibly speak for what occured,” Almendras said.

The NEA ordered the removal of six officials of the cooperative in October this year but took no action against Tupas.

The decision did not sit well with Iloilo Representative Ferjenel Biron, who wanted to know why Tupas was cleared of giving bribes that the officials were guilty of receiving.

Although Almendras promised to look into the case again, he will have to wait until January to satisfy members of the Commission on Appointments (CA). Congress went into recess this week.

Grave as allegations of bribery are, Biron’s concerns were parochial, bordering on personal. He ran against Tupas in the May elections.

Almendras with Senator Sergio Osmena III, chairman of the CA committee on energy

The last time Almendras stood before members of the CA, his confirmation was deferred on a similarly parochial concern. Quezon Representative Danilo Suarez wrote in to ask about real estate taxes owed by a power plant in his province. A pressing matter that could have been brought up in the months before confirmation hearings.

Tedious as the hearings are, Presidential appointees have to convince members of the CA that they deserve their post.

“They can go on as long as they want. That is the right of every member,” Senator Sergio Osmena III, chairman of the CA committee on energy, said the first time Almendras’ confirmation was deferred.

Education Secretary Armin Luistro, confirmed by the CA Wednesday, also initially faced opposition from a member of Congress.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago objected to his appointment saying his experience running a private university made him a poor candidate
to head public education.

She also said Luistro, a Lasallian brother, would be bound to follow Catholic doctrine on issues like sex education and reproductive health.

But Santiago also objected to Luistro’s appointment because he “pilloried” her for voting against opening the second envelope during the 2001 impeachment trial of then President Joseph Ejercito Estrada.

“I was savaged (by) the nominee (Luistro) and his gang, despite my explanation during the trial that as a former (regional trial court) judge, I was merely applying the Rules of Court,” she wrote Senator Edgardo Angara, chairman of the CA committee on education.

Santiago eventually withdrew her objection but not before threatening to use her one-man veto against Luistro.

The CA has a mandate to screen appointments made by the President to make sure he picked the best and brightest.

That assumes, though, that its “power shall be discharged with impartiality, without partisan consideration and with only one impelling motive, which is the harmonious and efficient functioning of the government.”

That is still subject to confirmation.

hey can go on as long as they want. That is the right of every member.
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