President Duterte fired Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo at the end of the 25th Cabinet meeting at Malacañang late Monday night.
The president reportedly told Teo to hand in her resignation as tourism chief during a one-on-one talk with her.
Teo attended the meeting called by Duterte after declaring she was not resigning from her post despite controversies hounding the Department of Tourism (DOT) under her leadership.
Earlier Monday, she said she was not resigning amid mounting calls for her to step down following the P60 million in advertisements of the DOT placed in a television program produced and hosted by her brothers, Ben and Erwin Tulfo, and broadcaster Alex Santos.
“I am not resigning. This is not true as I still have the trust and confidence of the President,” Teo said in a message to The STAR conveyed through a third party.
She said her husband, Roberto, would resign as director of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), which is under the DOT. But Roberto will keep his director’s seat in the Land Bank of the Philippines.
Teo attended the cabinet meeting at Malacañang Monday afternoon, where President Duterte shook hands with her.
Teo’s spokesman, lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, said BITAG Media Unlimited Inc. (BMUI) of which Ben Tulfo is chief executive officer and founder, is returning the P60 million paid by DOT for its advertisements on BMUI’s Kilos Pronto magazine show over PTV-4.
Topacio added that Teo is leading an internal investigation in the DOT to determine who is responsible for the fiasco.
He said if Teo had known that the P60-million advertisements the DOT had placed with PTV-4 would be aired on Kilos Pronto, she would not have continued with the deal.
“So someone made a boo-boo somewhere,” Topacio said in a radio interview.
The investigation is conducted, Topacio added, to find out who was negligent and imprudent and caused Teo to sign the contract with PTV-4, resulting in the controversy hounding the DOT secretary at present.
“We are not under the illusion that returning the money will end the investigation or will result in the issue dying down, but we feel this is the right thing to do under the circumstances,” Topacio said.
Malacañang said Bitag Media’s decision to return the P60 million would not influence President Duterte’s decision regarding the tourism secretary.
“It’s up to the President. The issue is, is Wanda staying or not? Only the President can decide on that,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said in a chance interview earlier yesterday.
“The only issue here as far as the President is concerned is whether or not Teo is staying and all these will have no impact on the decision of the President… The President would make a decision, whatever decision he wants to make,” he said.
Roque added that it would be up to the ombudsman to decide whether charges should be filed over the advertising deal.
“The information is very new. I’m not even aware if the President knows about it already. It was just a matter of literally a few minutes before this press briefing when I heard it over the radio,” the spokesman said.
“Right now there are no charges, number one, and number two, I do not know to whom they are returning the money and I do not know the ramification of that,” he added.
Roque declined to answer questions about the possible charges that may be filed in connection with the advertising deal.
“As spokesperson, I think I’d rather not answer that question. Any other lawyer can answer that,” he said.
Roque also claimed to be unaware of the resignation of the secretary’s husband, Roberto, from the board of TIEZA. He said he only heard about the resignation over the radio.
“Apparently Mr. Teo was an appointee of (former) president (Benigno) Aquino (III) in the TIEZA. And he has long tendered his resignation. But he has no successor yet so he remained in his post. He reportedly said he was no longer attending meetings. He was afraid he might be accused of dereliction of duty,” the presidential spokesman added.
As this developed, the Senate will conduct a probe into the controversial advertising contract.
Sen. Nancy Binay, chair of the Senate committee on tourism, had earlier pushed for a probe into the DOT’s spending on advertisements and other marketing initiatives, following the P60-million ad controversy.
In a statement, Binay said she filed the resolution to look into how the tourism department spends its budget for advertising and marketing.
Binay said there is a need to find out how the DOT rationalizes local advertising placements and if they are congruent with the strategic marketing and media plans of the department.
“Perhaps the DOT can shed light on the advertising deal entered into with (PTV-4) following the (Commission on Audit’s) findings,” Binay said.
Moreover, the senator welcomed the decision of BMUI to return the P60 million it received for the ad placements.
“We welcome the gesture of good faith by Bitag to return the P60-million TV ad payment back to the government. Nonetheless, the DOT and PTV-4 need to clarify some issues with regards how commercials are placed and the terms of reference covering such agreements,” Binay said.
In its report posted online last April 27, the COA stated that PTV-4 made the following payments last year to BMUI: P22,089,560 on May 11; P18.96 million on Nov. 8; and P18.96 million on Dec. 15.
Binay said due to limited government funds, the DOT and other agencies must be responsible in spending every peso.
“The budget to improve the image of the Philippines and attract tourists is no joke,” she said. (By Edith Regalado; With Catherine Talavera, Paolo Romero, Alexis Romero, The Philippine Star)