In its 2017 audit report, the COA said Teo and her brother, Ben Tulfo, owner of Bitag Media Unlimited Inc., may be held liable for violating Section 3 (e) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits public officials from giving unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference to any private party.
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COA flags more than P2-billion DOT expenses in 2017
Elizabeth Marcelo (The Philippine Star) - July 13, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Controversies continue to hound former tourism secretary Wanda Teo as the Commission on Audit (COA) released yesterday a report finding anomalies in over P2 billion worth of expenditures of the Department of Tourism (DOT) during her stint, including the P89.8-million advertisement deal entered with the media outfit owned by her brother.

In its 2017 audit report, the COA said Teo and her brother, Ben Tulfo, owner of Bitag Media Unlimited Inc., may be held liable for violating Section 3 (e) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits public officials from giving unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference to any private party.

Tulfo is the producer of Kilos Pronto, a news program produced by Bitag, which airs on People’s Television Network Inc. (PTNI) or PTV-4.

Based on COA records, the DOT signed a P120-million contract with PTNI on March 15, 2017 for the airing of the agency’s advertisements.

The contract, valid for one year, was signed by Teo and PTNI president and general manager Dino Antonio Apolonio, state auditors said.

The COA said 75 percent or a total of P89.878 million of the contract was allocated to PTNI’s block-timer Bitag without public bidding. 

Last April, the COA flagged the ad placements of the DOT on Kilos Pronto, which included a six-minute advertisement segment and a three-minute commercial spot.

The COA said a total of P60.01 million was paid by the DOT to Bitag in the form of checks released on May 11, Nov. 8 and Dec. 15, 2017.

Teo resigned last May after the questionable advertisement deals hit the headlines.

In its new audit report, the COA said it is not only the DOT’s advertisement deal with Bitag that was attended with irregularities but the entire P120-million contract with PTNI.

As of Dec. 31, 2017, the audit body said a total of P73 million (less tax) was released by the DOT to PTNI despite lack of supporting documents.

Last June 5, the COA issued a Notice of Disallowance for the P120-million advertisement deal and ordered the return of the amount by the concerned officials.

In a statement, Teo maintained that she is innocent of the allegations hurled against  her.

“My conscience is clear. During my sting as tourism secretary, I did not commit or allow any violation of the anti-graft law. In any event, I will answer these charges in the proper forum,” she said.

Malacañang expects the Tulfos to return to the government the money they got from the advertisement deal.

“Well, they are the ones who said they would return the money. We expect them to comply with what they said,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said.

Excessive foreign trips

In the same audit report, the COA noted the “excessive” expenditures of the DOT for the foreign travels of its officials and employees in 2017, including Teo.

Based on the report, a total of P19.29 million was released to 94 DOT officials and employees last year as cash advances for their trips abroad. 

Of the amount, P863,954 was released to Teo for her trips to Germany, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Turkey.

DOT Undersecretary Katherine de Castro received P340,913 for her trips to Bologna and Rome.

Undersecretary Benito Bengzon Jr. got P1.035 million for his trips to Israel, Dubai and Florida; Undersecretary Rolando Cañizal received P1.586 million for his trips to Singapore, Thailand, Spain, Turkey, Germany, France and Portugal; Undersecretary Feliciano Maximo, P179,807 for his trip to Qatar; and Assistant Secretary Frederick Alegre, P390,094 for his trips to Israel and Vietnam.

The COA also reiterated its earlier findings that it was unlawful for the DOT to pull out items from the stores of Duty Free Philippines Corp. (DFPC) and charge them against the DOT’s profit share with DFPC.

A total of P3.79 million worth of items was pulled out by DOT from Duty Free stores in 2017, allegedly as promotional materials and payment for DOT consultants.

The COA said the cost of the goods was “unlawfully” deducted from the DOT’s share in the DFPC’s net profits in violation of Republic Act 9593 or the Tourism Act of 2009.

Questionable programs

The COA also questioned the projects of the DOT for 2017 amounting to P847,208, including the “English as Second Language” program, promotion of cruise ships to Philippines and scuba diving activities.

The COA said 12 foreign Philippine Tourism Offices received in 2017 cash advances totaling P605,261 for the implementation of various programs. But there was no monitoring or evaluation conducted by the DOT as to the performance or accomplishment of these offices.

The 12 tourism offices are located in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York in US; Beijing and Shanghai in China; Taiwan; Korea; Frankfurt, Germany; Osaka and Tokyo, Japan; Sydney, Australia; and London.

DOT: Foreign trips legal

The DOT maintained that all the foreign trips of its officials and employees were legal and compliant with government procedures. 

The DOT assured the COA that it would review its guidelines on foreign travels.

Outgoing Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales welcomed the audit report, saying it would boost the fact-finding investigation against Teo and other DOT officials.

 “So all these findings will be collected and included in the investigation of the case,” Morales said.

She added even if the amounts flagged by the COA are returned by Teo and other DOT officials, “it is not automatically considered as quashal of the offense committed.” – With Alexis Romero, Robertzon Ramirez, Catherine Talavera 

BEN TULFO COMMISSION ON AUDIT DEPARTMENT OF TOURISM WANDA TEO
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