In a chance interview with reporters on the sidelines of an anti-corruption forum in Quezon City yesterday, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales confirmed that her office has launched a motu propio or self-initiated investigation on the controversial ad placement deal between the DOT and Bitag Media Unlimited Inc. (BMUI) of Ben Tulfo.
Michael Varcas
Ombudsman to probe P60-million DOT ad deal
Elizabeth Marcelo (The Philippine Star) - May 9, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Office of the Ombudsman is investigating alleged irregularities in the P60-million advertising deal between the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the People’s Television Network Inc. (PTNI) for ad placements with a private media outfit owned by a brother of resigned tourism chief Wanda Teo.

In a chance interview with reporters on the sidelines of an anti-corruption forum in Quezon City yesterday, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales confirmed that her office has launched a motu propio or self-initiated investigation on the controversial ad placement deal between the DOT and Bitag Media Unlimited Inc. (BMUI) of Ben Tulfo.

“Yes, we’ve already done that,” Morales said when asked if her office has any plan to investigate the issue.

Morales said investigators from the ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office (FIO) have begun a fact-finding probe on the matter.

During the question-and-answer portion at yesterday’s forum, Morales said her office had requested the Commission on Audit (COA) for a copy of its audit report.

“We have initiated an investigation. We have written the COA chair requesting that we be furnished with the audit report. From there, we can move on and see if there is a need to conclude the investigation for fact-finding and if there is necessity, we will (conduct) preliminary investigation,” Morales said.

Under the ombudsman’s internal rules, the FIO would have to file a formal complaint if it finds sufficient evidence in the course of its field investigation. The complaint would then have to be subjected to a preliminary investigation by the ombudsman central office.

The ombudsman is allowed under its internal rules to launch motu propio criminal and administrative investigation of possible anomalies in the government.

In an annual audit report posted on its website last week, COA said three checks worth more than P60 million were released by the PTNI to BMUI.

BMUI is a block-timer on PTNI’s television channel PTV-4. The P60-million payment was for the supposed airing of a six-minute DOT advertisement segment and a three-minute DOT spot in “Kilos Pronto,” a magazine-news program produced by BMUI for PTV-4.

COA said full payment was released to BMUI despite the lack of a formal contract as well as other supporting documents such as Certificate of Performance, duly approved Budget Utilization Request and Billing Statement detailing the deliverables.

The PTNI had earlier issued a statement saying that it was able to submit all the necessary supporting documents during an exit conference with the audit team.

Senators commend decision to resign

Senators commended Teo for tendering her resignation but made it clear they would proceed with their investigation into the questionable ad deal.

“It is unfortunate that her name was dragged into a controversy. I, however, commend her decision to resign and to spare the President from undue pressure,” Sen. Nancy Binay, chair of the committee on tourism, said in a statement.

Binay said President Duterte has too many problems to attend to, including the diplomatic spat between the Philippines and Kuwait, “to be dragged into this issue.”

She urged Duterte to immediately appoint Teo’s replacement, so as not to compromise DOT’s programs and projects, especially the rehabilitation of Boracay Island.

Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV also commended Teo for resigning but asked Duterte not to reappoint her to another post as he did to other officials involved in controversies.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said Teo’s resignation only confirmed the allegations of corruption against her.

“But regardless, the Senate investigation must push through because we must know the extent of corruption at the DOT under her watch. Moreover, appropriate cases must be filed against her and those involved in the ad scam and other anomalies,” Trillanes said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the inquiry is necessary to strengthen relevant laws on graft and corruption.

Meanwhile, the former tourism chief’s husband Roberto Teo will remain as board member of Land Bank of the Philippines Leasing and Finance Corp. (LLFC).

“Yes, until replaced by Malacañang,” Landbank president and chief executive officer Alex Buenaventura said in a text message when asked for confirmation.

He received his Palace appointment last year. He serves in the Risk Management Committee of the corporation.

He had been a board member of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) since 2014.

Ferdinand Topacio, Wanda Teo’s legal counsel, recently announced that Roberto submitted his resignation as TIEZA board member effective June 30. – Mary Grace Padin, Paolo Romero

Related video:

CONCHITA CARPIO-MORALES DEPARTMENT OF TOURISM PEOPLE’S TELEVISION NETWORK INC.
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