MALACANANG has directed the Department of Justice (DoJ) to take steps to recover the P60 million in ad placement fees paid to broadcaster Ben Tulfo’s Bitag Media by the Department of Tourism (DoT) under the leadership of his sister, former Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo told reporters on Tuesday that the DoJ “will have to do something about it” as Tulfo refused to return the ad money involving a transaction that was flagged by the Commission on Audit (CoA).
“The Palace always wants that laws are not only enforced but are obeyed to its fullest extent. As we said there are no sacred cows in this government, friends or allies,” Panelo said.
The Palace did not give a deadline on the return of the ad money.
“[It] depends on the DoJ, because it’s their call, they will have to do something legally about it,” Panelo said.
The issue stemmed from a 2017 CoA report, released in April 2018, which showed that state-run People’s Television Network paid P60.010 million to Bitag Media Unlimited Inc. for the airing of DoT advertisements on Tulfo’s program Kilos Pronto.
Another report from state auditors said that Teo may be held liable for graft due to alleged conflict of interest over the ad buy.
It was Teo’s lawyer Ferdinand Topacio who claimed that the Tulfo siblings would return the money. After his announcement, Teo quit as Tourism chief.
But Tulfo announced in July 2018 that they would not return the amount, saying the transaction was above board and that they did not steal from government coffers.
On Monday, special envoy to China Ramon Tulfo accused his brother Ben and Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar of manipulating the deal.
Andanar has yet to comment on Ramon Tulfo’s claim, while Panelo said they would not preempt the PCOO chief’s response to the allegations.
“Mr. Tulfo has raised some concerns and Secretary Andanar I’m sure will be responding to those concerns,” Panelo said.
The Office of the Ombudsman, which has primary jurisdiction to probe and prosecute officials suspected to have been involved in graft and corruption, is already looking into the deal.