Berna Romulo-Puyat
Duterte names DA usec as new tourism chief
Christina Mendez, Edith Regalado (The Philippine Star) - May 9, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte appointed Agriculture Undersecretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat as the new tourism secretary Tuesday evening.

Special Assistant to the President Christopher Go confirmed the President appointed Puyat, daughter of former Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo.

“I am overwhelmed by the appointment,” Puyat told The STAR last night.

Puyat said she was at Malacañang for a National Food Authority Council meeting when the President casually offered her the post.

Wala na si Wanda, gusto mo ikaw? Bagay ka (Wanda resigned, do you want the job? You are a good fit for the job). Your credentials speak for themselves,” Puyat quoted the President as saying.

Puyat said she thought the President was just joking.

After the meeting, Duterte met with former senator Serge Osmeña. The President introduced Puyat to Osmeña as the new tourism secretary.

“Serge, meet the new DOT Secretary. Serge, you are the first to know,” Puyat quoted the President as saying.

Puyat will leave her position as undersecretary for administration, agribusiness and marketing, and regional engagement at the Department of Agriculture to take the helm of the tourism department burdened by corruption issues and the impact of the six-month closure of Boracay island, the country’s premier tourist destination.

Industry stakeholders are hoping the next Department of Tourism (DOT) head will be more responsive to the needs of the private sector.

Duterte’s spokesman said the Chief Executive had already accepted the resignation of Wanda Tulfo-Teo. Her resignation came weeks after the Commission on Audit (COA) flagged a P60-million deal between the DOT and the state-run People Television Network Inc. for the placement of ads for a program produced and hosted by Teo’s brother Ben.

The STAR’s banner story on Tuesday said Duterte fired Teo.

The President yesterday said he recently fired a government official.

“Marami akong napaalis sa corruption. Mayroon bago (I have fired so many because of corruption. I fired someone recently). It has nothing to do at all with any other reason. I just don’t want to make publicity out of it,” Duterte said in a speech during the oath-taking of newly promoted flag officers of the military in Malacañang.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said it will now be up to the ombudsman if Teo and the Tulfo brothers will be investigated for possible criminal wrongdoing.

“On accountability, that is a matter which the ombudsman must determine, only the ombudsman can answer if charges will be pursued because that is (the ombudsman’s) constitutional duty,” Roque said.

“I think secretary Teo, being a close associate of the President, did what she thought was the best course of action, and we thank her,” he added.

He said the COA reports – if proven true – could fall under Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. But he stressed all the elements of the charges should be proven.

Roque also said the return of the money in question will not exonerate those involved in the possible anomaly. “Well, the President is a lawyer. So the (return of) P60 million can be seen as a good gesture, but under the law, it will not completely exonerate, if there are violations. But an investigation is underway,” he added.

Roque did not debunk the claims of Teo’s lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, who claimed that his client did not act with malice when the DOT granted the advertisement contracts to BITAG Productions of Teo’s brother Ben Tulfo.

Ben co-hosts the program with brother Erwin and another anchorman, Alex Santos.

Meanwhile, Tourism Congress of the Philippines president Jojo Clemente told The STAR that the private sector wants a new leader who will listen and work closely with the private sector.

“We look forward to working with the new leadership, whoever he or she may be. The tourism stakeholders are tired from the distractions but will dutifully monitor the steps of the incoming leadership,” Clemente said.

“In some sense, there is relief that the tourism industry can go back to what it does best, which is to promote the country and its people, to continue developing upcoming destinations and to continue as an economic driver. We wish to put the past where it belongs, in the past,” Clemente said.

Afro Asian Travel president Angel Ramos Bognot said the resignation of Teo is timely.

“The confidence in her by the President and the industry deteriorated much with her numerous issues,” Bognot said.

She added that for two years, the inbound tourism industry in general paled beside competitor markets.

“We need a strong and consistent direction plus an effective marketing program. Her failure to work well with the stakeholders and the perception that she lacks skills paved the way to become a weak tourism leader,” Bognot added.

“As a stakeholder, it is always unfortunate to find that there are irregularities in the dealings of any government institutions like the DOT and for this to consequently prompt resignations. But corrective actions must be undertaken,” Rajah Travel and Tours president Aileen Clemente said.

“I just hope that there is more collaborative effort in looking for the leader that will take the helm of DOT and whose qualifications will be based on a joint criteria set by both government and private sector,” Clemente said.

Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) president Marlene Jante declined to comment on the resignation of Teo but said they will continue to work with the DOT.

Teo’s lawyer Topacio said it was out of delicadeza and not an admission of guilt that prompted her resignation.

“From what I gather from our conversations, notwithstanding the fact that she still enjoyed the trust and confidence of the President, the enemies of the President were seizing upon this issue to harm the presidency. And that is something she could not accept,” Topacio said.

“I think she felt that as the time went on and that the issue was not dying down, it was also hurting the President – and it might be a distraction from the many positive changes that the President wanted to effect on our country and the government,” he added.  With Catherine Talavera

ALBERTO ROMULO BERNADETTE ROMULO-PUYAT CHRISTOPHER GO DEPARTMENT OF TOURISM
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