THE new tourism secretary-designate has vowed to be tough on corruption and to go over all project contracts with a fine-tooth comb.
In a news conference at her office at the Department of Agriculture (DA) where she is an undersecretary, Berna Romulo-Puyat said, “I will take a look at it [P60-million media-placement deal between the Department of Tourism and the People’s Television Network Inc.], then leave it to the authorities [to determine the criminal liability].”
She emphasized that she would be going over all the project contracts that have been signed in the past. “I will look at everything. I’m very meticulous. [Personally],
before I sign anything I have three lawyers look at it, and an accountant.” She added she will also take a look at the Buhay Carinderia project of the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB). “I have nothing against street food, but you can do everything and not hold it, in lieu of Madrid Fusión Manila [MFM],” she said.
Romulo-Puyat defended the MFM for having helped farmers and the marketing of their produce.
“You know [MFM] is a very successful project,” she said.
“When we started in 2015, the DA was one of the major sponsors because it’s about food. Our job was to promote the local ingredients. And all I had were 45 chefs who volunteered, Tony Boy Escalante, Margarita Fores, all the top chefs gave their services for free, just so they could produce the best the country had to offer,” Romulo-Puyat added.
“My main objective then was to prove to the whole world that we had good food. I got surprised that local consumers and chefs found these tasty local ingredients. Since then, the chefs have asked me where they get those ingredients and buy them…. it’s a way to get to know the Philippines through food,” she said.
Romulo-Puyat also said she would keep the “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” brand campaign. “It works! It’s a successful campaign. Why do we have to change it? To change it, the DOT would have to pay for a new one again.”
She expressed admiration for former Tourism Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez Jr., who was instrumental in launching that “more fun” campaign. “I have so much respect for him. He knows how to think out of the box. Ang galing n’ya. [He’s very good.]”
Romulo-Puyat said she would likely keep the career officials at DOT. “I’ve been working with them for five years already, the career officials are very good. They’re very professional no matter who the President is. I’m excited to work with them again.”
Romulo-Puyat said she was a stickler for civil-service rules, and said she would not have any family members involved with the DOT or any of its projects. “Even when my brother ran for the Senate, I didn’t even campaign for him. That’s prohibited under civil-service rules. And your only capital is your reputation.”
She declined to make any categorical statement regarding the holding of the Miss Universe beauty pageant, as she has yet to talk to the DOT officials who have been organizing it. “When I meet with them, I plan to ask about their plans and programs for next year, because we’re all preparing our budgets for 2019. I want to see it, and I want them to evaluate it, where to focus on with the limited budget, so I can’t say if it will push through our not.”
Romulo-Puyat was appointed as DOT secretary after Wanda Corazon T. Teo resigned her post on Monday over allegations that her brothers benefited from the media placement contract of the government agency with People’s Television Network Inc. An investigation by the Office of the President is ongoing, while the Ombudsman has said it would be coordinating with the Commission on Audit (COA) to find out more about the case.
Hard-hitting journalist Erwin Tulfo, meanwhile, has finally broken his silence on the P60-million tourism advertisement of PTV-4, which is being questioned by the COA, and has resulted in the resignation of his sister, Wanda, as secretary of the DOT.
Tulfo, a news anchor of PTV-4 and commentator of Radyo Pilipinas, explained that he didn’t know anything about the issue because he was not involved in the negotiation or contract signing between the DOT, PTV-4 and Bitag Media Unlimited Inc. (BMUI).
It can be recalled that the COA was asking for the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between PTV and BMUI regarding the said ad placement, amounting to P60 million. But Erwin clarified that he has nothing to do with it, since he is just an ordinary talent and employee of BMUI and not the owner nor the producer, as mentioned in some reports. “I would like to clarify that I am not the owner, producer or an official of BMUI and I have nothing to do with its operation, ” he said in Filipino.
Tulfo added that he decided to give his side after noticing that his name is also being dragged to the controversy, and he was mentioned in some news reports as the owner and producer of BMUI, which, he said, is owned by his brother, Ben.
“Like an ordinary employee, I am just a talent or a casual employee of BMUI, just like anchor man, Alex Santos,” he said. “Hindi ko maintindihan kung bakit pinipilit ng ilan na isama ako sa isyung ito gayung ang kinalaman ko lang ay mga kapatid ko ang nasa sentro ng kontrobersiya,” Tulfo added.
He also challenged those behind the issue to just file a case against him, adding that he is more than ready to be investigated and face them in court.
Image credits: Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo