Berna must clean tourism
- Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - May 14, 2018 - 12:00am

The appointment of Berna Romulo Puyat as the new tourism secretary was well received, judging from the thousands of positive comments and likes on social media. People got a sense of relief after the plague that demoralized the Department of Tourism.

I join the many well wishers of Berna because I know she is well qualified. More importantly, she has a family reputation to protect. Carlos P. Romulo is her grand uncle, Alberto Romulo is her father, and Roberto Romulo is her uncle. All served with distinction representing our government in the international arena.

While Berna will do fine at tourism, I still believe the department should be dismantled at some point for all the reasons I discussed in a column last week. However, I realize the dismantling process will take time. Congress must repeal the Tourism Act that created the department.

In the meantime, Berna just might be able to convince us that the Tourism Act can deliver on its promises. It just might, if unlike her predecessor, Sec Berna will implement it to the letter.

The problem of the tourism department today is absolute lack of credibility. It is so bad that the first order of business for Secretary Berna is to clean house.

Unless she is able to remove all those responsible for the recent dark days in the department, she won’t be able to accomplish much. Neither career staff nor private sector industry, whose support she needs, will take her seriously.

On top of her to-do list is to fire all the political usecs and asecs brought in by her predecessor. Most of them are tainted with the PTV mess, as well as other questionable deals.

Actually, her predecessor appointed three more usecs than allowed by the Tourism Act. The political appointees have demoralized the career staff and Berna should not allow that situation to continue.

Sec Berna must ask the President to give her the same privilege he gave the new justice secretary to clean house and start fresh... to get rid of the political appointees of her predecessor... yes, to get rid of Cesar Montano, if the actor insists on doing his own thing.

Cesar Montano cannot have his own republic. Only one person in government must be responsible for tourism and that’s Sec Berna Romulo Puyat. The President would understand why Sec Berna must have full control over the government tourism machinery or how can she succeed?

Indeed, there is sordid unfinished business from her predecessor. One of these is that carinderia folly that caused P80 million to flow out of the taxpayers wallet for no good reason. Sec Berna must stop it and have it investigated.

How it got approved as a tourism promotion project is beyond explanation. How the proponent/organizer was able to collect on the whole P80 million budgeted (for the Luzon phase) even before anything got started is another mystery that the new tourism secretary must look into. Was there even a public bidding?

I have copies of three checks issued by Cesar Montano’s Tourism Promotion Bureau (TPB) in favor of the organizer and proponent of carinderia. I also have a copy of the signed contract. Comparing the documents raises whiffs that should earn the ire of President Duterte.

The contract dated  March 15 and notarized March 20 calls for a financial sponsorship of P80 million, plus VAT, to be released in four tranches: P12 million; P28 million; P32 million and P8 million upon completion of certain milestones.  But full payment of over P80 million was made between March 19 to April 17.

Three Landbank checks charged to the account of the TPB were issued as follows: March 19 for P13,440,172.80; March 20 for P31,360,000; April 17 for P35.840,000.

By their own timetable, the program is supposed to go on up to December. Normally, full payment is made only after submission of standard project report. That should have been January next year. 

Just for comparison, Madrid Fusion Manila has been successfully held for P43 million in government sponsorship. There were private sector sponsors too like SM and Ayala.

But because the project was not a favorite of the tourism officials, the organizer of Madrid Fusion Manila only got paid their first 15 percent down payment after the event was done in April 2017 and received their full payment in November 2017 or six months after project completion.

Some questions come to mind. Why rush payment for carinderia? Were they anticipating the inevitability of the former secretary’s ouster? Why did the approving authorities sign off on the payments that are in violation of the contract and the norms of government? Who is the carinderia proponent and what is the relationship with the tourism officials?

Sources told me that a fashion designer is the apparent connection. The same designer had benefited in sponsorships of TPB and DOT for fashion shows in London, Berlin, Canada, Middle East, and New York. Don’t ask how much! It will raise your blood pressure.

Why fashion shows to promote visits to the Philippines? Why carinderia? Is there a strategy in having such events for tourism promotion that is not immediately palpable?

After cleaning house, Sec Berna must come up with a strategic plan based on work already done by Mon Jimenez during his watch. She will also have to put up defensible criteria for projects that will benefit from TPB funds. Cannot be bahala na or case by case. Every centavo must be credibly spent to achieve an objective.

Sec Berna must never compromise no matter how they try to butter her up in hopes of being retained. That will mean eventual failure that will besmirch the public service legacy of the Romulos. She cannot let down all those thousands of well wishers on the day of her appointment. Let a bright new day begin.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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