DOT chief apologizes for Philippine Retirement Authority head's Senate budget hearing demand

Rosette Adel - Philstar.com
DOT chief apologizes for Philippine Retirement Authority head's Senate budget hearing demand
Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco attends the briefing on the proposed 2023 budget of the agency at the House of Representatives on Aug. 31, 2022.
DOT / released

MANILA, Philippines — Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco early Tuesday morning apologized for the “out-of-line actions” of Philippine Retirement Authority head who was called out by senators for demanding the prioritization of the Department of Tourism’s 2024 budget deliberations.

'Inappropriate actions'

At around 1 a.m. Tuesday, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada called the attention of PRA General Manager Cynthia Carreon for “incessantly” texting Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, Deputy Minority Risa Hontiveros and Sen. Pia Cayetano and asking them to stop asking questions to hasten the Senate plenary deliberations on the proposed 2024 budget of DOT.

PRA is an attached agency of DOT while Carreon, former  physical fitness instructress and classmate of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, previously served as the chief operating officer of the Tourism Promotion Board in 2010. She was appointed to PRA in October this year.

According to Estrada, Carreon was lecturing them to stop asking questions because she has been in the Senate since 1 p.m. of Monday for the deliberation on DOT’s budget.

“May I call the attention of Ms. Cynthia Carreon, we’ve been here working at 9 o’clock in the morning waiting for all the budget of the departments to be deliberated upon. We are doing our job and no one has the right to tell us to stop talking here. It is our duty and our job to perform our work here in the Senate and you don’t have the right to tell us what to do here,” Estrada was quoted as saying.

“The secretary (Frasco) is not complaining. She is a neophyte secretary. She never complained. Who are you to complain? Kahit siguro alas tres na ma-hear ang budget ng DOT, hindi magrereklamo ‘yan, (Even if the DOT’s budget will be heard at 3 a.m., she won’t complain)” he furthered.

Zubiri also found Carreon’s actions “very surprising,” saying that senators are mandated to deliberate the budgets of all government agencies and also do not have the right to stop any member of the Senate to ask questions or propose amendments.

“As Senate president, I will never do that to any of you. So it's very surprising,” Zubiri said.

“When I heard that you were texting other members of the Senate, particularly more insulting text messages to Senator Risa Hontiveros, to stop asking the budget of the DENR because you want the DOT to be next in line, that is not proper, that is inappropriate. And I think the sad part about it is she doesn't know you from Adam. So it’s like an angry text message from an anonymous person which is again as I mentioned inappropriate. It’s quite insulting,” he added.

Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva also found the action “unacceptable,” demanding her to explain how “she thinks this Senate as an institution can be better if we will succumb to whatever she wants.”

Estrada also said Carreon previously sent a message to Cayetano regarding world’s No. 2 pole vaulter EJ Obiena’s performance.  

DOT chief disapppointed

Following this, the tourism chief expressed shock and dismay over Carreon’s “highly inappropriate” actions.

Frasco explained that Carreon acted on her own. The tourism head said that she already told off the PRA head’s plan but in defiance of “what she (Frasco) has been clear about,” Carreon proceeded to send the inappropriate messages to the senators.

“I share in your shock and dismay at the highly inappropriate, unacceptable, and out-of-line actions of the head of the Philippine Retirement Authority, the recently-appointed GM Cynthia Carreon, who at the beginning of this day, also actually approached me and demanded that we be placed first as far as the schedule of the deliberations of the budget, to which I immediately replied to her to say that: ‘We cannot do that, because the Senate is an independent body and we must fully respect their schedule, their discretion, their time. We wait like everybody else, because we are in their house,’” Frasco said.

The DOT secretary thanked Sen. Nancy Binay, sponsor of the tourism agency’s 2024 budget, for letting her know of Carreon’s actions. She also thanked the senators and Zubiri for “for having acted at the height of impropriety, and also to make very clear that she acted on her own, and without the imprimatur of the Department of Tourism, or any other attached agency or official of the DOT.”

Frasco said that she demanded for Carreon's immediate and personal apology to all senators and the latter has already apologized.

Hontiveros is still calling for a public apology from Carreon saying that while she already heard the personal apology, “words must be followed by action.”

“In the end, above all, this is about respect because we don’t use our sense of entitlement. We are just doing our responsibilities and mandate in the Senate,” Hontiveros said in Filipino.

“So I hope things can be set right in the next days, not just in the Senate but in public who are following our work over the past two weeks. They, at least, appreciate the seriousness in which we do our work, any time, how tired or not tired we are,” she added in mix English and Filipino.

Probe ordered vs PRA head

The DOT chief, on the other hand, said that she has ordered the Chief of Staff to immediately conduct an investigation into Carreon’s actuations.

Frasco said findings will mete out the appropriate penalty that is also appropriate to the “impropriety of her (Carreon’s) actions.”

The tourism secretary also stressed how the DOT fully respects the Senate and its constitutional mandate.

“To close, since I am the head of the Department of Tourism, of which the PRA is an attached agency, I would just like to emphasize our due respect to the Senate and to your exercise of your duty. We yield to your discretion, and we thank you for your patience. Daghang salamat,” Frasco said.

“We respect your mandate, we respect your discretion, and we fully appreciate your exercise of your duty even now to the wee hours of the morning,” she also said.

The Senate closed the interpellation on the 2024 budget proposal of the DOT amounting to P3.3 billion and submitted it for the approval of the body past 1.am. Tuesday.

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