Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo is suddenly under scrutiny after the Commission on Audit recently disallowed the expenditure of about P60 million incurred by the Department of Tourism for television advertising expenses on a program aired on the government-owned and controlled PTV-4 television station.
At first glance, there seems nothing unusual about that expenditure. After all, those advertisements are supposed to promote tourism in the Philippines, and the DoT is supposed to promote tourism. Besides, it is very costly to advertise on television.
The main concern of the CoA is that the P60 million, which was a portion of a bigger budgetary allocation to the DoT, was payable to Bitag Media Unlimited, Inc. for DoT advertisements placed in the television program Kilos Pronto. More particularly, television personalities Ben and Erwin Tulfo are the hosts of that TV program, the payee company is supposedly owned by the Tulfos, and Secretary Teo is the sister of Ben and Erwin Tulfo. It was reported that the checks paid by the DoT to the Tulfo-owned media company were signed by Teo as DoT secretary.
Critics say that the arrangement is an example of conflict of interest. That view, however, is conjectural unless it is established that Teo has business interests in BMU, Inc. It is worth emphasizing that the Tulfo brothers have been on television long before their sister became President Duterte’s DOT secretary.
From what the news media have so far revealed, BMI, Inc. is a blocktimer on PTV-4. That means BMU, Inc. purchases airtime from PTV-4, and this allows BMU, Inc. to broadcast Kilos Pronto on the government TV channel. This arrangement also means that BMU, Inc. has the exclusive prerogative to seek sponsors for its TV show. Since BMU, Inc. owns the airtime it uses for Kilos Pronto, all advertising revenues raised by BMU, Inc. for this program belong to BMU.
The problem, so far, involves propriety, namely, delicadeza. As the Tourism Secretary, Teo should not have allowed her brothers from getting any advertising revenue from the very government agency she heads.
If, however, it is shown that Secretary Teo has business interests in BMU Inc., that will be an instance of conflict of interest and may pave the way for a prosecution for graft.
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As of this writing, Roberto Teo, the husband of DoT Secretary Teo, is reportedly a member of the governing board of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), a government agency directly under the DoT. Mr. Teo has held this post since the administration of then President Benigno Aquino III. [Editor’s Note: Roberto Teo resigned his post as TIEZA chief Monday.]
Being the DoT chief, Secretary Teo is the chairman of the same TIEZA board of which her husband is a member. That’s a case of both husband and wife in the same governing board of a state-owned institution.
According to the news media, Roberto Teo was appointed by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to the governing board of the Land Bank of the Philippines as early as 2016. If that is so, Mr. Teo may be drawing double compensation from the government —which is in violation of the Constitution.
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Political observers lament that there appears to be some sacred cows in the Department of Labor and Employment. Last month, President Duterte fired then DoLE Undersecretary Dominador Say for rampant anomalies involving, among others, the licenses of recruitment agencies.
Say remains very close to current Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III. He was Bello’s trusted consultant when Bello was still a party list representative in Congress. The licenses approved by Say are supposed to be signed by Bello, or signed under Bello’s authority as DoLE secretary. Therefore, if Say had been involved in anomalies concerning licenses of recruitment agencies, there is the very strong likelihood that Bello must have been aware of the anomaly and that he did nothing to address the problem. It had to take President Duterte to fire Say—which is what Bello should have done in the first place.
As of this writing, Bello seems to be occupied with how he can convince President Duterte to lift the apparently permanent ban against the deployment of Filipinos for virtual slavery in Kuwait.
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The supporters of beleaguered Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno have so far presented inconsistent arguments against current attempts to oust her from office.
When the justice committee of the House of Representatives conducted investigative hearings relating to the impeachment complaint a lawyer filed against Sereno several months ago, Sereno’s supporters quickly denounced the complaint and the proceedings as threats to the independence of the judiciary. They also insinuated that President Duterte was behind the move to oust Sereno from office. Likewise, they insisted that the House should not even entertain the complaint.
Things got more personal for Sereno after some of her colleagues in the Supreme Court testified against her in the hearings conducted by the House. Soon thereafter, Sereno’s supporters began discrediting the justices who dared speak against her in the proceedings. They were particularly angry at Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro whom they accused of badly wanting to be the first lady chief justice back in 2012 when Chief Justice Renato Corona was removed from office by the Senate.
After some of the justices informed the justice committee that Sereno’s appointment as chief justice is possibly void from the start in view of her alleged failure to submit her statements of assets and liabilities as required by the Judicial and Bar Council from judicial candidates, Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a petition for quo warranto against Sereno before the Supreme Court.
Now that the Supreme Court has given due course to the quo warranto case and is set to resolve it soon, Sereno’s supporters have changed their mantra and they now prefer the impeachment proceedings in lieu of the quo warranto case. Good grief!