THE Office of the Ombudsman said Tuesday it has begun investigating the P60 million worth of Department of Tourism commercials that were placed in a TV show produced by Ben and Erwin Tulfo, the brothers of Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo, who resigned Monday over the scandal.
“Yes we’ve already done that,” said Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, when asked if her office had already started an investigation into a Commission on Audit finding that led to Teo’s resignation.
In its report, CoA questioned the P60 million paid to Ben Tulfo’s show Kilos Pronto, saying that the DoT ad placements “were not supported with proper documents” as required by law.
Teo at first denied knowledge of the ad placements, saying the project had gone through a bidding process that was reviewed by the DOT legal department.
She also said the ad agreement was between the DoT and People’s Television Network Inc., which operates the state-owned PTV4, and that it was PTNI that decided to place the tourism commercials in Kilos Pronto, produced by Tulfo’s Bitag Media Unlimited, a blocktimer.
Amid calls for Teo to step down over the conflict of interest, she submitted her resignation to the Palace Monday, her lawyer Ferdinand Topacio said Tuesday.
He added that Teo had decided to leave before the Cabinet meeting Monday, after which she had a one-on-one meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte.
Senators said Teo’s resignation would not stop a Senate investigation into the advertising agreement between the DoT and PTNI.
“Secretary Teo’s resignation only confirms the allegations of corruption against her… The Senate investigation must push through because we must know the extent of corruption at the DOT under her watch,” opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said.
“Moreover, appropriate cases must be filed against her and those involved in the ad scam and other anomalies,” he added.
Senator Nancy Binay, chairman of the Senate committee on tourism, had earlier filed a resolution seeking an inquiry into the issue.
Senators Panfilo Lacson and Francis Pangilinan also supported the planned Senate investigation.
“Yes, it should, if only to strengthen the laws that have something to do with propriety in public service, not to mention anti-graft laws,” Lacson said.
He also said Teo’s resignation did not come as a surprise.
“It would be surprising if she did not,” he said. “It only shows that with authority comes responsibility and yes, accountability. It is true in any field of human endeavor, in private, more so in government,” said Lacson.
“One common mistake of public servants is reaching a point when they fail to distinguish right from wrong. Worse, others do not know when to stop. That is why leadership is very important in situations that call for hard decisions,” Lacson added.
Pangilinan said the inquiry should proceed as a “means of determining accountability and in order to send the signal that corruption and abuse will not be tolerated.” He said Teo’s resignation was a “welcome development.”
“And we hope there will not be any reappointment to another post and that the necessary charges against all those involved be brought to bear,” he added.
He said officials who were fired due to their involvement in corruption should no longer be given government position.
Binay urged the President to immediately appoint Teo’s replacement so as not to affect the department’s projects, including a massive cleanup on Boracay Island.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, meanwhile, said the Palace would continue its investigation into the controversial advertising deal despite Teo’s resignation.
Teo handed her resignation to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea before the Cabinet meeting Monday afternoon, Roque said.
In a press briefing, Roque said documents in connection with the deal are now with Medialdea, who will make a recommendation to President Duterte.
Several government officials will be investigated, including top officers of the PTV4, which is an attached agency of Presidential Communications Operations Office headed by Secretary Martin Andanar.
Andanar declined to comment on the issue.
“Let us allow proper procedure, which is basically for PTV4 to comply with the Commission on Audit’s requirements,” he said.
In a statement, Topacio said Teo’s decision to leave her position was made after “a long and deliberate reflection and soul-searching with respect to the events that have transpired the past few weeks. “
“We wish to clarify that there was no demand made on the part of the President for Secretary Teo to resign, and that the decision to do so was purely of her own volition,” Teo said.
Topacio maintained that all the dealings of the DoT went through all legal processes and were above-board and done in good faith, and with a total absence of malice.
Teo, he added, was guilty of no wrongdoing and resigned out of “delicadeza” and to spare the President from being hurt by the controversy.
“I think she felt that as time went on and that the issue would not die down, it might also hurt the President,” he said.
CoA said there was no agreement or contract between PTV4 and Tulfo’s company to air the tourism commercials on its show.
Despite the lack of such an agreement, the government station paid Bitag P22.09 million in May last year; P18.69 million in November; and another P18.96 million in December.
“Since there was no MOA wherein the terms and conditions of the agreement are supposed to be spelled out, there was also no basis for the computations on how the said three payments were arrived at,” COA noted.
This was not the first time when Teo’s name was involved in alleged irregularities.
Earlier, she drew flak for being a makeup artist on her trips to the United Arab Emirates, Australia and Russia. But Teo said the “makeup artist” was actually her executive assistant.
Early in her term, Teo also urged media not to report on negative stories such as the deaths in the government’s war on drugs, saying this was bad for tourism.
Opposition lawmakers in the House welcomed Teo’s resignation, but Magdalo Party-list Rep. Gary Alejano said the Duterte administration must file the appropriate charges against her.
“Firing of officials allegedly due to corruption and just transferring them to other government posts has become the pattern of this Duterte administration. This is just to show that Duterte is against corruption but in reality no case has been filed against those who were fired by him. For the sake of transparency and accountability (and not just for accommodation), Duterte should file appropriate [charges] against Teo and all those who will be fired in the future due to corruption,” Alejano said.
Anakpawis Party-list Rep. Ariel Casilao, member of the Makabayan Bloc, said the investigation against Teo should push through.
“Teo’s resignation does not exonerate her from the issue of conflict of interest, involving [millions of pesos in] taxpayers’ money, it is obvious that her quitting is a save-facing act, accepting that the indignity will eventually pull down the President’s popularity,” Casilao said.
Alejano said the Teo’s resignation “was the prudent thing to do.”
“But given the blind loyalty of her family, I am sure Teo and her brothers will be rewarded with some other position and any investigation into the anomaly will be whitewashed,” Alejano said.
Akbayan Party-list Rep. Tom Villarin said the resignation of Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo shows how corruption and incompetence has reared its ugly head in Duterte’s government.
“While she professes no wrongdoing, it was very clear from the CoA report that the P60 million disbursements were not properly recorded. She should still be investigated and proper cases filed against her and the Tulfo brothers. This is a classic case of blatant abuse of power and public service used for personal profit,” Villarin said.
Administration ally and Parañaque City Rep. Gus Tambunting, for his part, said Teo’s resignation was a welcome development.
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