President Rodrigo Duterte has fired Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo, after state auditors found that P60 million in advertising placements from her department found its way to a TV show produced by her brothers, Ben and Erwin Tulfo.
Given the President’s numerous statements that he would fire any government official over even “a whiff of corruption,” Teo’s departure certainly seems justifiable.
Teo’s lawyer insists she was neither fired nor asked to resign when she met privately with the President after a Cabinet meeting at the Palace on May 7.
“Her 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,” her lawyer said.
“Teo reiterates that she has done no wrongdoing, and that all the dealings of the DoT went through all legal processes, were above-board and done in good faith, and with total absence of malice,” he added.
A commonsense appreciation of the facts, however, tells us otherwise.
For example, both Teo and her brothers insist that the ad placements were the result of a contract between two state agencies, the Tourism department and PTV-4, which merely offered the Tulfos’ TV show, Kilos Pronto, as a vehicle for the department’s tourism commercials.
However, none of this changes the impropriety of having funds under Teo’s control finding their way into her brothers’ show, which hardly seems to be the ideal vehicle for ads promoting tourism.
Furthermore, neither Teo nor her brothers can credibly claim ignorance.
If the Tulfo brothers are as ethical as they claim, should they not have turned down money from the Tourism department since they knew it was run by their sister? And how much credence can we give to Teo’s claim that she did not know that of all possible shows, it was her brothers’ that benefitted from P60 million worth of ads from her department? If this truly were the case, she should be fired anyway for being so careless with the people’s money.
One of her brothers has since offered to return the P60 million—which seems to be a belated acknowledgment of wrongdoing. After all, why return the money if it were fairly, legally and ethically earned?
Whether Teo was made to resign or she quit on her own accord, her departure is a welcome development in the administration’s efforts to clean house. But that should be the first, not the last step in dealing with this misadventure.
Contrary to the presidential spokesman’s claim that it is not the job of the Palace but the Ombudsman to investigate corrupt officials, it is absolutely the President’s responsibility to initiate action against corruption, especially if it emanates from his official family.
In this instance, the investigation should extend to PTV-4 and the government office that oversees it to determine why they would enter into what turned out to be an anomalous contract.