By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
Despite the nature of her job as Department of Tourism (DOT) chief, Malacañang said DOT Secretary Wanda Teo is not exempt from President Duterte’s order to government officials under the Executive Branch to go on a starvation diet from foreign travels.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque made the statement after it was reported that Teo brought along her make-up artist and utility workers to her 2016 and 2017 trips to Canada, Dubai, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.
Roque, in a press briefing, said that it is possible that Duterte has already learned about Teo’s trips and that he may even ask the Tourism secretary about it.
“Well, if it’s been published I’m sure the President will ask. It’s in his nature, always to ask,” Roque said Thursday.
However, the Palace official defended Teo, saying it is too early to say if she made excessive trips since it is her job to promote the Philippines to foreign tourists and possible investors.
“Unang-una, hindi po natin alam kung hindi kinakailangan ‘yun kasi Secretary of Tourism ‘yun. Talagang trabaho niya na ibenta ang Pilipinas bilang (First of all, we can’t say if those trips were unnecessary or not since she is the Secretary of Tourism. It is really her job to sell the Philippines as a) travel destination,” Roque said.
“Maiintindihan naman natin siguro kung bakit maraming biyahe abroad ang (I think we can all understand why she has a lot of foreign travels because as) Secretary of Tourism because she has to sell the Philippines as a destination,” he added.
According to Roque, aside from the President’s order against excessive foreign trips, the Commission on Audit (COA) has a set of established guidelines about bringing government officials overseas.
“Basta sumunod ka sa established guidance, number of personnel na kasama, at legitimacy ng trip mo, siguro naman iyan ay allowable (As long as you follow the established guidelines, the number of personnel, and show legitimacy of the trip, maybe that is allowable),” he said.
“Meron din pong guidelines diyan at ‘yan po ay binubusisi rin ng COA. Kung meron pong violation sa pertinent rules and regulations, ilalabas at ilalabas po yan ng COA (There are guidelines and COA is very strict on that. If there are violation on the pertinent rules and regulations, then COA will reveal them),” he added.
“No one is exempt because as government employees, we are subject to existing COA rules,” he continued.
Over the past four months, President Duterte has been in a crusade of firing government officials due to their excessive and/or unnecessary foreign travels.
Before 2017 ended, Duterte fired all top officials of the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP) over their excessive trips. On the first week of the New Year, Duterte fired Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) administrator Marcial Amaro for the same reason.
Duterte also revealed last month that he also “fired” Commission on Higher Educations (CHED) chairperson Patricia Licuanan also due to her excessive foreign trips.
Last month, the OES issued a memorandum order prohibiting government officials under the Executive Branch to travel abroad. President Duterte said that this is part of his campaign against corruption in government.
“It’s part of the campaign against corruption. Not only done with malice but those who just want to spend money of government for nothing,” he said in a close-in event in Davao del Norte last month.