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Editorial

Unfinished business at DOT

/ 05:08 AM July 10, 2018

The welter of shocking news these past days—the brutal murder of two town mayors in two days, the inflation spike of 5.2 percent (highest in five years), and the “basketbrawl” between Gilas Pilipinas and the Australian team—has virtually buried the 2017 Commission on Audit (COA) report which noted irregularities in the dealings of resigned Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo Teo with Duty Free Philippines Corp. (DFPC).

The report revealed that Teo had pulled out P2.52 million worth of items from Duty Free stores, using the tourism department’s share in DFPC’s annual net profits. As an agency under the Department of Tourism (DOT), DFPC was obliged to share its profits with the department for its many projects.

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The goods included P2.17 million worth of luxury cosmetics, branded bags, chocolates, canned goods, appliances, kitchenware, beddings and toiletries, as well as 277 items worth an additional P346,446.80, that were brought out from the DFPC without being recorded in the government corporation’s books. The goods, according to the DOT request, were to be used for sponsorships and as corporate giveaways.

The COA said it had repeatedly tried, but failed, to get the list of recipients of the giveaways, which included LED television sets, signature bags and shoes, inverter refrigerators, coffee makers, kitchen appliances, wines, and other food items.

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An amount of P22,893, supposedly used to ship the goods for “various DOT donations,” was also deducted from the DOT’s share of Duty Free profits, the COA report said.

The state auditors also questioned the payment of P1.6 million to an unnamed consultant hired to assist in the assessment and promotion of DOT and DFPC projects.

Teo denied any wrongdoing, saying that under her watch, the goods could not have been brought out without proper documentation.

But this is not the first time that Teo has been linked to irregularities. In April this year, the COA flagged the DOT’s P60-million ad placement in the program “Kilos Pronto” of blocktimer Bitag Media Unlimited Inc., a media outfit owned by Teo’s brother, Ben Tulfo. The deal, the COA noted, lacked the required supporting documents.

Choosing Bitag Media for the ad placements was also a clear violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, which forbids them from “dispensing undue favors on account of their office to their relatives.”

Media interest on the case unearthed a similar deal that the DOT had earlier crafted with the
same Tulfo outfit, this time to produce the travel show, “I Travel Pinas,” which aired over the government channel starting March 2017. Documents,
however, indicated that Bitag Media registered on PhilGEPS—a portal where national government
and local government units are mandated to post their bid notices for contracts and services—only
on Jan. 25, 2018.

The show cost the DOT some P200,000 per episode, or a total of P9.6 million a year.

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That wasn’t all: Just weeks after Teo resigned over the anomalous P60-million deal, Tourism Promotions Board chief Cesar Montano also quit his post when it was revealed that the agency had paid a total of P80 million for a Filipino food promotion project that had not even started. The woman behind subcontractor Marylindbert International, Montano said, is a personal friend of Teo.

To date, the government has yet to get back
the P60 million paid to Bitag Media which, according to their lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, they had promised to return.

While saying that it’s hoping the money would be returned, Malacañang has washed its hands of the matter, adding that it has turned over the case to the Ombudsman. In fact, the Teo case appears to enjoy something special: It has been spared the strong words and thundering condemnation that often lace President Duterte’s discourse when he publicly upbraids and disposes of yet another corrupt appointee.

The stench of the DOT deals is such that simple firing isn’t even enough. Erring officials should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law to deter similar wrongdoing—and simply to get back the P60 million which, after all, is the people’s money.

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TAGS: Commission on Audit, Department of Tourism, DoT, Duty Free Philippines, Wanda Tulfo-Teo
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