Ex-DOT chief, four others face graft rap over P1.2-B ad campaign project

FORMER Tourism Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez Jr. and two other officials of the Department of Tourism (DOT), along with two executives of an advertising agency, have been charged with graft and corruption before the Ombudsman for allegedly conspiring to award and extend twice a tourism advertising campaign project that cost the government almost P1.2 billion in three years.  

National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Director Dante A. Gierran, in a letter to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, said the NBI’s investigation showed Jimenez and the other DOT officials, including a former assistant secretary who is now a DOT undersecretary, and the two top officials of advertising agency Dentsu Philippines Inc., violated the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for their alleged involvement in the award of an original P200-million ad campaign in 2012 and its extension twice in 2013 that cost close to P1 billion without public bidding.

The NBI also asked the Ombudsman to charge all the DOT officials who are still in office with administrative cases of alleged gross negligence of duty and serious dishonesty for awarding and conspiring to keep the project with Dentsu for three years.

Gierran said the NBI legal team that investigated the case found Dentsu should not have been awarded the original P200-million contract in 2012 because it was found “ineligible” for failing to comply with documentary requirements, and the extension of the ad contract twice in 2013 by Jimenez and his co-accused allegedly proved a conspiracy to circumvent the national  government’s procurement laws and processes.

The advertising campaign was bidded out by the DOT to implement its “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” tourism-promotion campaign launched in 2012 to promote the Philippines here and abroad as a tourist destination.

Among those charged with Jimenez are current DOT Undersecretary Benito C. Bengzon Jr., who was an assistant secretary when the ad campaign was awarded to Dentsu, Atty. Guiller Asido, former COO of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (Tieza) and now administrator of the Intramuros Administration, Ma. Nonna Nanagas, former president of Dentsu Philippines and Romelyn S. Martinez, finance and administrative director of Dentsu.

The NBI told the Ombudsman that based on its findings, Dentsu should not even have been awarded the original advertising campaign project in October 2012 costing P200 million because it was found in July 2012 to be ineligible to participate in the project by the Special Bids and Awards Committee (SBAC) created by former DOT Secretary Albert C. Lim.

The SBAC created by Lim, who was replaced by Jimenez in January 2012 to solicit and review bids for the advertising  campaign, found Dentsu ineligible because the company failed to submit required documents, including its income-tax return and audited financial statement.

The NBI noted that the DOT SBAC had a change of heart on the ineligibility of Dentsu in September 2012 when it ignored basic bidding rules, and short listed instead Dentsu and one other company. Afterward, the technical working group of the DOT SBAC gave Dentsu the highest technical rating over the other bidder that eventually landed Dentsu the original advertising campaign contract in October 2012.

The NBI said Jimenez extended the original contract on February 1, 2013, up to June 30, 2013, at higher cost of P400 million, and included a 2-percent professional fee for Dentsu despite an opinion from Justice Raoul Creencia of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) that an extension should not exceed the original approved budget of the contract of P200 million, and should secure a clearance from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) as a multiyear obligational authority.

According to the NBI, Jimenez ignored the OGCC’s caution, and even extended the advertising campaign contract for Dentsu for the second time in October 2013, this time costing P600 million, with no prior approval from the TPB Board of Directors. The TPB Board ratified the second extension of the Dentsu contract only in November 2013.

The NBI said the extension of the Dentsu contract twice with no public bidding constituted a conspiracy among Jimenez, Asido and the other DOT officials to circumvent the government procurement law so they could keep the advertising campaign project in Dentsu’s hands.

Jimenez had justified keeping the advertising campaign contract with Dentsu as necessary so that the pacing and implementation of the “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign would not be affected.

But the NBI legal team insisted Jimenez and the other DOT officials consistently set aside procurement processes that called for requiring extensions of contracts not to exceed the cost of the original, and for a new bidding process if it exceeds.

It pointed out that even if it would be assumed that the project got an approval from the DBM as a multiyear project, it could only be renewed if the cost of the renewal contracts did not exceed or was lower than the original contract in October 2012 costing P200 million. The first renewal in January 2013 cost P400 million, plus a 2-percent agency fee that was included in the original cost, while the second extension cost P600 million.

The NBI informed the Ombudsman that it investigated the advertising campaign contract for Dentsu based on a request from the TPB headed by Cesar Montano, who submitted documents, including minutes of the SBAC proceedings and the meetings of the TPB Board of Directors during Jimenez’ time as tourism secretary and chairman of the TPB Board.

The NBI’s filing of the graft case against Jimenez and the other DOT officials on April 26 was followed shortly by a controversy triggered by news reports based on a Commission on Audit (COA) report on a P60-million advertising contract between the DOT and government television network PTV-4, which the COA said were placed in the PTV-4 program Kilos Ponto produced and hosted by  current Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon T. Teo’s brothers Ben and Erwin Tulfo.