MANILA - "Unless fired," Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo and other Cabinet members enjoy the full trust and confidence of President Rodrigo Duterte, Malacañang said Thursday.
Calls have been mounting for Teo to resign after the Commission on Audit (COA) questioned the lack of a memorandum of agreement for the P60-million fee the Department of Tourism (DOT) had paid to Bitag Media Unlimited Inc (BMUI), headed by her brother Ben Tulfo, for ad placements on its show “Kilos Pronto.”
The show, aired on state-run PTV-4, is hosted by brothers Ben and Erwin Tulfo.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the matter is now being investigated by the Office of the President. He described the investigation as an “informal one” as “it involves people who serve at the pleasure of the President.”
“Every Cabinet member, unless they are fired, enjoys [the] trust and confidence of the President,” Roque said when asked whether Duterte still has confidence in his tourism chief.
In its audit findings, COA noted that there was a memorandum of agreement on file between the DOT and the government-owned station "specifically requiring PTNI (People’s Television Network Inc.) to air a 6-minute segment buy in PTV's Daily News-type magazine segment, Kilos Pronto, plus a 3-minute DOT spot within the program."
But "[t]here were no provisions for the airtime rates per segment/spot and such other terms and conditions of the commercial advertisement specifically as regards the manner of payment," the 2017 COA report showed.
COA said disbursement vouchers showed that a P60-million payment was made to the Tulfos' BMUI in 3 tranches dated May 11, 2017, November 8, 2017, and December 15, 2017.
Despite COA’s findings, Teo earlier said she was not aware that the amount her agency paid to PTV-4 went to her brothers' program.
Teo’s lawyer Ferdinand Topacio told ANC the tourism secretary did not even know that "Kilos Pronto" was connected with her brothers.
Topacio said the burden is on PTV-4 to explain why they chose to put collections from the ad placements to the Tulfo brothers' program.
"The optics may not be good but she (Teo) did not deliberately choose her brothers' show," he said.
According to Topacio, PTV-4 itself decided that the collections from the tourism ad placements should go to the Tulfos' BMUI. He said the state-run station decided on placing the ads in "Kilos Pronto" based on the blocktimer program's ratings.
"There was no contract between Bitag and DOT. The contract was between DOT and PTV-4, and PTV-4 and Bitag," he said, claiming that the COA report was "not final yet" as they have yet to produce the proper documents.
The lawyer said it was premature to call for the resignation of Teo because even the COA is still trying to get to the bottom of the issue and determining whether all of the P60-million payment actually went to the Tulfos' program.