The Wanda Teo timeline
On April 27, the Commission on Audit published on its website its “annual audit report” on the People’s Television Network Inc. — better known as PTV.
Among many other findings, the COA report on PTV noted that “Payments made to Producer/Blocktimer, Bitag Media Unlimited Inc. … in the total amount of P60.010 million, representing segment buy and spot placement in airing the Department of Tourism’s … commercial advertisements were not supported with proper documents …”
The report, part of a series on different government agencies, government units, and government corporations for the year 2017 which the COA had started releasing several weeks before, was in compliance with the commission’s constitutional mandate to submit to the President and Congress “an annual report covering the financial condition and operation” of the government
and its various instrumentalities and “recommend measures necessary to improve their effectiveness and efficiency.”
But because the secretary of tourism was Wanda Tulfo Teo, and Bitag Media is owned and managed by her brother Ben Tulfo, this particular irregular transaction that the COA flagged became the focus of the news.
The COA report did not cite the conflict of interest that tainted the transaction or the nepotism that marked it; the report only zeroed in on the missing documentation, and recommended (again, as part of its constitutional mandate) that PTV management “submit the following” documents: a copy of the memorandum of agreement, a copy of the certificate of performance for the airing of the commercials, “billing statement and other relevant documents,” and a “budget utilization request.”
But the way the Tulfo family responded to both the COA report and the news reports turned a compliance issue into a national scandal that embarrassed the Duterte administration and on Tuesday forced Teo to resign.
Ben Tulfo took to Facebook to insinuate that the new tourism undersecretary, Pompee La Viña, was part of a larger scheme to remove Teo.
Erwin Tulfo, another brother with his own shows on TV and radio, claimed that the report was a preemptive political strike, aimed at him because the surveys — or, to be precise, one survey — showed him ranking high among prospective candidates for the Senate.
More damning, Teo met the press to say, essentially, that she did not know that P60 million of the people’s money entrusted to her department had been earmarked for a company owned by her brother.
“The contract is between PTV 4 and the DOT because it is the President’s request that we support the government station,” Teo said, adding that it was a “government-to-government contract.” Teo said it was only after the signing of the alleged government-to-government contract that “they told us [they will place ads in] Kilos Pronto [her brother Ben’s program on PTV] because the show’s ratings were high.”
She made things worse when she hired a controversial lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, to speak for her; the message she sent was that she saw herself in legal trouble (else why send a lawyer to represent her on talk shows and in media interviews, rather than the department staff who should have made the best case for the presumption of regularity in her decisions); at the same time, Topacio is better known for the controversial statements he makes than the legal cases he wins.
And, in fact, he tried to paint Teo as an innocent lost in the bureaucratic maze, who would have done the right thing if only she had known.
If she had only known about the selection of her brother’s firm, Topacio said, she would have stopped the deal.
“So someone made a boo-boo somewhere,” he said.
Well, that would be Teo.
As the COA report makes clear, the P60 million was not paid to the Tulfo company in one tranche, but rather in three tranches: over P22 million on May 11, almost P19 million on Nov. 8, and almost P19 million on Dec. 15, all in 2017.
In other words, Teo (and her lawyer) are pleading ignorance that lasted for seven months.
This does not make her look innocent; it makes her look guilty, either of an obvious attempt not to acknowledge the conflict of interest at the center of the transaction, or of gross incompetence.
No wonder the President forced her out.
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