New DOT chief is an old hand at marketing, promotions

In Photo: In a photo on her Facebook page, newly appointed Secretary of Tourism Berna Romulo Puyat picks grapes in Bauang, La Union in 2016.

THE new Secretary of Tourism is virtually an old hand at marketing and promotions, a major asset in selling Philippine tourism destinations to the world.

As agriculture undersecretary, Bernadette Fatima Romulo Puyat is known for her advocacy in gender and development, marketing agriculture products, and being a foodie. She brings to her new job a passion for countryside development.

Special Assistant to the President Bong Go announced her appointment as head of the Department of Tourism (DOT) Tuesday evening.

A favorite cover girl of glossy lifestyle magazines, Romulo Puyat has also been a keen supporter of tourism projects, such as the widely popular Madrid Fusion Manila, with the Department of Agriculture sponsoring regional lunches that put together the country’s agricultural products with the nation’s most revered chefs and food enthusiasts.

She is second to the youngest in the brood of five of former Foreign Affairs Secretary and ex-Senator Alberto Romulo and his wife, Lovely Romulo nee Tecson. Her father is currently chairman of the Development Bank of the Philippines, an appointee of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Romulo Puyat is said to have the ear of Duterte, and in many instances, the President has openly expressed admiration for the young widow. She has two children with her late husband, lawyer David Puyat, Vito, 22, and Maia, 21. She is currently seeing Tarlac Rep. Charlie Cojuangco, widower of the late beauty queen and actress Rio Diaz.

Trained as an economist at the University of the Philippines, Romulo Puyat later became an economics professor at the state university, and after nine years, took a stab at politics by running as representative of the first district of Quezon City in 2004.

She later joined the Macapagal Arroyo administration in 2005 as consultant to the powerful Presidential Management Staff, before joining Arthur Yap who became DA Secretary.

“I asked him what I would do there, and he answered, ‘Bahala ka.’ (It’s up to you). In other words: make yourself relevant,” said Romulo Puyat in an interview with the BusinessMirror in 2015. The job really piqued her interest, she said, because it was something her father didn’t know anything about, as his expertise lay elsewhere. “Somehow you want to be known for your own accomplishments, and not because you’re the child of so and so,” she stressed.

As assistant secretary at the DA, she took care of the foreign grants, a job which she enjoyed, as she made sure the monies were properly channeled to farmer beneficiaries. “They’re overjoyed and extremely grateful when we’re able to help them,” said Romulo Puyat.

But it was her work with rural women beneficiaries that really made her devoted to her work, as she helped implement microfinance programs; provided technical support and provision of seedlings, planting materials, fermentation boxes and processing equipment for Manobo women farmers; undertook product promotion and market linkage support for coffee farmers in Kalinga, Bukidnon and Mt. Kanlaon, as well as pili, cacao, and cassava farmers in Camarines Sur; established an organic village for indigenous women farmers in Davao; and provided production and technical support for organic farmers in Bukidnon, to name a few.

“This job gives you fulfillment,” Romulo Puyat said with obvious pride. “I enjoy it. Nothing beats being right there in the provinces—no one really knows you, and yet you’re helping a lot of people.”

Romulo Puyat was promoted to DA Undersecretary by President Benigno Aquino III, then retained at her post by Duterte.

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