By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
President Duterte has put an end to speculations that he is in a relationship with new Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat.
Duterte, in a speech in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu, said that he and the daughter of former Senator Alberto Romulo, are just really close that their closeness is sometimes misinterpreted.
“The popular notion is girlfriend ko siya (she is my girlfriend). She is not. Honestly, she is not,” Duterte said, referring to the former Agriculture Undersecretary.
“Ito naman si Bernadette, talagang parang buddy-buddy ko. Pero ang mga TV, ‘yung binabantayan ‘yung (Bernadette is like a buddy of mine. But the TV people is so focused on the) body language. She is not [my girlfriend],” he added.
Duterte then teased Puyat to admit if they are in a relationship.
“Ano ba tayo, on o hindi? Magsabi ka ng totoo (What are we? Tell the truth),” he asked Puyat, earning the laughter of his audience.
“She’s a very good friend,” he added.
The President then explained the reason for choosing Puyat to take the place of former Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo who resigned due to a controversial advertisement deal with her brothers’ program in PTV-4.
“You’re at the moment when there was really nobody to pick, siya ang pinili ko (I chose her) because I know her. She’s a magna cum laude graduate of the School of Economics sa UP (at the University of the Philippines),” Duterte said.
Even when she was still with the Department of Agriculture (DA), Puyat has been visible in some of Duterte’s events where the President has expressed his fondness of her.
Duterte also once joked in a March, 2017 event that he was distracted by her legs.
“Berna, nadis-distract ako, you close your legs. National TV ‘no. Nakikinig pa ba ang papa mo (Berna, you’re distracting me, close you legs. This is national TV. Is your father still listening),” he jested, but immediately apologized later on.
Earlier, the Internet feasted on a photo of Puyat holding Duterte’s hand in a public function. Although the photo was taken in 2015 when Duterte was still mayor of Davao City, the photo led the speculations that her appointment was due to Duterte’s fondness.
The 49-year-old widow, brushed aside the allegations, saying her track record in government can speak for itself.
In an interview over ANC last month, Puyat explained that what mattered was Duterte admitted that it was wrong for him to make that joke. She also added that Duterte never held her hand again.
“It’s not relevant. We’re friends. He’s a friend of the family. He’s known my mom since they were teenagers. He’s close to my dad,” Puyat said.
Puyat has been an Undersecretary for Administration, Agribusiness and Marketing, and Regional Engagement at the Department of Agriculture (DA) since July, 2017. She has also been working at the DA since the time of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
She also served as an Undersecretary for Special Concerns at the Agriculture department during the Aquino administration. She likewise served as a consultant at the Presidential Management Staff during Arroyo’s time.
She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Economics from the University of the Philippines where she also taught for nine years.