Mounting problems
HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - July 1, 2018 - 12:00am

There is no honeymoon period, so to speak, for newly confirmed Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat.

The feisty tourism chief immediately buckled down to work, sending a strong message to all and sundry that she is dead serious with her job and with ridding the agency of graft and corruption.

Puyat suspended all projects of the Tourism Promotions Board, including the controversial Buhay Carinderia project of TPB chief Cesar Montano, pending a review she had asked the Commission on Audit (COA) to conduct. The project did not undergo bidding.

According to Puyat, she is not comfortable carrying out questionable programs even if these had been signed by her predecessors.

The DOT secretary has also asked the COA to investigate all projects of the department.

And then of course there is still this unresolved matter involving P60 million in advertisements that was given by the DOT to PTV-4 and then in turn released to the Tulfo brothers for their program which airs on the state-owned channel. Puyat said the Tulfo brothers have yet to return the P60 million but is leaving it to COA to decide whether the ad placement was illegally done.

Puyat has asked COA to investigate all ongoing projects of the department after discovering that hundreds of millions were spent questionably during her predecessor’s time. She said that during Wanda Tulfo-Teo’s tenure, the DOT funded some fashion shows abroad and events hosted by close friends of the former tourism secretary as well as a golf tournament.

As if her problems were not enough yet.

In its 2017 audit report, the COA questioned National Parks Development Committee (NPDC) executive director Penelope Belmonte for lack of documentation on around P7 million in expenses.

The NPDC is an agency attached to the Department of Tourism. Its mandate includes developing, administering and managing the Rizal and Paco Parks in Manila and other parks that may be assigned to it.

According to the COA report, Belmonte spent P562,200 for tailoring services to design and produce the uniforms of NPDC officers and employees without government-required documents such as terms of references, request for quotation, abstract of canvass, and official receipts to support the purchase. The NPDC has allocated P890,000 for uniform/clothing allowance for its personnel in its 2017 budget.

COA also questioned P3.7 million in payments to performing artists for several events, P476,000 professional fees for a private lawyer who was hired without the acquiescence of the Solicitor General and written consent of COA, P2.2 million for the purchase of several equipment, and excessive travel expenses.

According to some accounts, Belmonte and other NPDC officials went on a study tour to Singapore to acquire an orchid to be named after President Duterte but failed to submit quotations for tickets and other documents.

In the 2017 report, COA noted a P10 million decline in NPDC revenues due to Belmonte’s decision to stop collecting fees and charges from vendors and the park’s gated facilities.

The COA recommended to the NPDC to review the policies, rules and regulations on revenue generation for the two parks. In response, the NPDC agreed to create a committee to assess its revenue stream and formulate a business model to improve its income profile.

But then, DOT’s problem does not end with getting rid of graft and corruption.

With top tourist destination Boracay having a much-needed respite after decades of abuse brought about by poor, if not non-existent planning, it goes without saying that other tourism destinations should act early before they suffer the same fate as Boracay.

As for places which are just starting to develop as tourism spots, the DOT together with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and local government units should start working together before things get out of hand. Maybe this multi-sectoral approach to tourism development, management and preservation should be institutionalized, both at the national, as well as at the regional and provincial levels.

For comments, e-mail at mareyes@philstarmedia.com

BERNA ROMULO PUYAT COMMISSION ON AUDIT
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