'Extravagant': COA questions P2 billion worth of DOT execs' disbursements, travels

Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 12 2018 04:13 PM | Updated as of Jul 12 2018 06:57 PM

MANILA (UPDATED) - The Commission on Audit said cash advances and foreign travels of Department of Tourism personnel and officials might have been "excessive and extravagant" as there were no specific guidelines governing their trips.

In the 2017 audit report on the DOT, government auditors noted that verification of the liquidations for cash advances on foreign travels showed 94 officers and employees of the DOT's central office joined various tourism-related activities in different countries.

“There are no specific guidelines on foreign travels by the DOT-Central Office personnel, with traveling allowances aggregating to P19,290,878.50 incurred in 2017, thus, exposing the government to risks of incurring expenditures for excessive and extravagant travels abroad,” the COA said. 

The list includes the following:
- resigned Secretary Wanda Teo who went to Germany, Thailand, Turkey, Singapore and South Korea with a total Daily Subsistence Allowance of P863,959; 
- Assistant Secretary Frederick Alegre with a DSA of P390,103 for Israel and Vietnam; 
- Undersecretary Benito Bengzon with P1.035 million for Israel, USA and Qatar; 
- Undersecretary Rolando Canizal with P2.968 million for Singapore, Spain, Turkey, Germany, France, Thailand, Portugal, China; 
- Assistant Secretary Reynaldo Ching with P373,586 for Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh; 
- Undersecretary Katherine De Castro with P340,913 for Italy; 
- Assistant Secretary Maria Lourdes Japson with P23,966 for Hong Kong; 
- Undersecretary Alma Rita Jimenez with P159,359 for Singapore and Thailand; 
- Undersecretary Falconi Millar with P345,470 for China and Italy.

“Due to the considerable number of travels abroad of the DOT CO personnel, we consider it necessary for the DOT to issue specific guidelines for foreign travels to exercise prudence and prevent any excessive and extravagant travels,” the COA said. 

DOT said it will "review and revisit the agency’s existing guidelines" on its officials' travels.

"If necessary," DOT will "come up with a more stringent version while staying true to its mandate of creating a favorable image of the Philippines."

Government auditors however noted that the DOT has issued a set of guidelines this year.

“Management issued guidelines on foreign travels through Department Order No. 2018-05 dated 10 January 2018 to prevent unnecessary, excessive and extravagant travel expenses,” the COA said. 

The travels of DOT officials, as well as the P120 million memorandum of agreement between the DOT and Bitag Media of Teo’s brother Ben Tulfo, were among the 33 items in the 2017 audit report.

Teo, in a statement, maintained her "conscience is clear" and that she did not commit nor allow any form of corruption during her stint as tourism secretary.

"My conscience is clear. I am confident that during my stint as Department Secretary, I did not commit or knowingly allow any violation of the Anti-Graft Law, or any other law for that matter. In any event, I shall answer these allegations in the proper forum," she said in a statement.

CASH ADVANCES, OTHER EXPENSES

Government auditors also flagged cash advances amounting to P605.261 million of 12 foreign Philippine Tourism Offices (PTO) because there was no proper oversight body to monitor and evaluate the projects undertaken by the offices.

The COA mentioned programs such as International Tourism Trade Fair and Sales Mission to European Countires, World Routes, Eastern Mediterranean International Tourism and Travel Exhibition, Salon de la Plongee Sous Marine International Dive Show, Asian Madrid Fusion, Moscow Dive Show, International Mediterranean Tourism Market, European Dive Show, Seatrade Cruise Global, Moscow International Travel and Tourism Exhibition, Routes Asia, Seatrade Cruise Asia, International French Travel Market, China Education Expo.

“Per inquiry with the planning section, there is no specific division and/or person who consolidates the plans, targets and accomplishment reports of PTOs,” the COA said.

The DOT told COA that they will issue an appropriate order creating a team to monitor and evaluate PTOs' programs. 

Local projects amounting P847.208 million were also questioned for not having indicators that measure the benefits they provide to boost the number of tourists.

The programs involved English as a Second Language training for persons in the tourism industry and other branding campaigns.

DOT reasoned that the number of tourist arrivals was their performance indicator but COA still recommended that a set of targets be developed. 

Disbursements pertaining to the Philippine Experience Campaign involving TV networks with a total amount of P271.719 million were also not justified with documents such as media plan, cost estimates, and implementation reports.

The disbursements were part of a P649.477 million contract with McCann Worldgroup Philippines, Inc.

Payments were made by McCann, which were not in the payment scheme they earlier presented, for the following projects or placements: “Anak” television commercial; for programs such as Alyas Robinhood, Encantadia, 24 Oras, Maalaala Mo Kaya, Kapuso Mo Jessica Sojo, TV Patrol; for Miss Universe Coronation Night.

Government auditors also questioned placements made on international networks CNN, Discovery Networks Asia Pacific, BBC, Nine Media Corporation amounting to P224.753 million which did not have complete supporting documents, as well as the non-conversion of US dollar to Philippine peso which is in violation of the Government Procurement Act. 

The DOT however said the final terms of the campaign were only agreed upon by the parties in the last quarter of 2017 and the additional funds needed to cover the bank charges and foreign exchange differential were charged against the 2016 budget.

Government auditors however commended the DOT for the increase in international cruise ship arrivals in Manila from which grew from 11% to 125% and 23% to 238% in terms of number of passengers.

“While in Manila for an average of 10-12 hours of port call, the passengers went to familiar sites, such as Intramuros, Rizal Park, National Museum and other top tourism sites in the city and toured nearby destinations like Tagaytay, Taal Volcano, Pagsanjan Falls, and Corregidor before proceeding to their next port calls,” the COA said.