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COMMENTARY

Heavy price for honesty

12:04 AM November 28, 2016

Dead men tell no tales, so the saying goes.

Not so for lawyer Francisco Jose Villa Jr., an official of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), who took his life after allegedly being pressured by his superiors to approve procurement and consultation contracts that do not go through proper bidding procedures.

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A graduate of the Ateneo Law School, Villa was the son of the late Deputy Ombudsman Francisco Villa who served with distinction as government graft-buster and police chief of Pasay City.

A 13-year employee of the ERC, Villa rose from the ranks to be director of the Planning and Information Service before his suicide.

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A close friend of Villa described him as “prayerful.”  True to his Christian values, he resigned from his college fraternity when a neophyte died while undergoing initiation.

His suicide notes mirror his inner struggle to reconcile his superiors’ instructions in handling procurement contracts with the strict bidding requirements of the law.

Villa was a perfect fit for the position of head of the ERC bids and awards committee—an appointment that some people would gladly give an arm and a leg to get because of the perks and privileges that go with it.

His death opened a can of worms in the agency that supervises and regulates the operations of multibillion-peso companies engaged in supplying the country’s energy or power needs. He has brought public

attention to some activities in the ERC that are talked about only in whispers by its rank and file employees or discussed in hushed tones by people who do business with it.

His suicide notes may be likened to a dying declaration, or statements made by a person in anticipation of his or her impending death and who wants to make a clean breast of the things that bother his or her conscience.

In terms of credibility, a dying declaration carries the same weight as (and sometimes even more than) the testimony of a person who actually witnessed the commission of a crime.

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Seen as an exception to the hearsay rule—i.e., statements made by a person who is not present in court cannot be admitted in evidence—a dying declaration is “considered credible and trustworthy evidence based on the general belief that most people who know that they are about to die do not lie.”

No doubt, Villa was in complete control of his faculties when he wrote his suicide notes. He was fully aware of the consequences of his action and that his revelations would adversely affect the character and integrity of the ERC officials he named.

There are no reports that he was at odds with or had running disputes with the ERC top brass outside of what he mentioned in connection with the purchase of certain equipment. In other words, no ill will or malice can be ascribed to him in denouncing the alleged pressure that was made to bear on him as head of the bids and awards committee.

Based on the statements of his close friends and co-employees, Villa was God-fearing and there was not a mean bone in his body that would motivate him into publicly putting some ERC officials in very bad light.

The officials named in Villa’s suicide notes are in a no-win situation. Whether or not they are guilty of the acts that they have been accused of, public perception has already turned against them. They can proclaim to high heavens their innocence of the accusations against them, but it is doubtful if their protestations would diminish the impact of Villa’s dying declaration. If only to save the ERC from further embarrassment, they should seriously consider the idea of bearing the brunt of the heat caused by Villa’s suicide and resigning their posts.

That would be a small sacrifice to make compared to what Villa did for the good of the service.

Raul J. Palabrica ([email protected]) writes a weekly column in the Business section of the Inquirer.

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TAGS: Commentary, Energy Regulatory Commission, ERC, Francisco Jose Villa Jr, opinion, suicide
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