Ombudsman clears ex-Tourism Secretary Teo, her brother Ben Tulfo, 4 others in PTV4 ads

Published October 12, 2021, 2:33 PM

by Jel Santos

Office of the Ombudsman

“For lack of probable cause,” the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) has cleared former Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo, her brother Bienvenido “Ben” Tulfo, and four other individuals who have been charged criminally for graft in the P120-million advertisement deal with the state-controlled People’s Television (PTV-4).

In 2018, the Commission on Audit (COA) alleged was a “possible conflict of interest” when Teo contracted a company owned by her brother, Ben, for a television advertisement campaign on tourism.

But the OMB’s 21-page resolution approved by Ombudsman Samuel R. Martires stated that Teo was “not in any way privy” to the advertisement contract between Bitag, Ben Tulfo’s television program, and PTV.

Also cleared by the OMB were Arlene V. Mancao, executive assistant at the Department of Tourism (DOT); Dino Antonio C. Apolonio, general manager of Peoples Television Network, Inc. (PTNI); Ramon Del Rosario, head airtime management group of PTNI; and Ma. Alma A. Francisco, administrative officer of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO).

Together with the Tulfo siblings, they were charged with conspiracy in the case filed by the Field Investigation Office of the OMB.

“There is no conspiracy. In the eyes of the law, conspiracy exists when two or more persons come to an agreement concerning the commission of a crime and decide to commit it. The overt act or acts of the abused may consist of active participation in the actual commission of the crime itself or may consist of moral assistance to his co-conspirators by moving them to execute or implement the criminal plan,” the OMB said.

“The issue to be resolved is whether there is probable cause for Section 3(e) of the… Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act against respondents for conspiring with one another in giving unwarranted benefits in favor of Bitag Media Unlimited Inc., through Kilos Pronto, a Daily News-Type Magazine Segment in PTNI/PTV4 which is produced by Bienvenido ‘Ben’ Tulfo, a brother of then DOT secretary Wanda Tulfo Teo,” it said.

The OMB noted that it was the idea of PCOO Secretary Jose Ruperto Martin M. Andanar that DOT should partner with PTV.

“This came about after the January 2017 cabinet meeting with President Duterte stressing the need to help and support the governments television network (PTV) in order to increase the latter’s income,” it added.

Moreover, it said that records showed that Bitag, through its Kilos Pronto program, complied with its contractual obligations, saying that it even exceeded the agreed airtime.

“In short, the government got its monies worth. There is no undue injury to consider,” the OMB said.

Records showed that in January 2017, Andanar wrote then Secretary Teo and expressed the desire of PTV4 to partner with the DOT in the latter’s tourism marketing programs.

When COA flagged the deal with Bitag Media, Teo resigned her post in May 2018. She insisted there was no conflict of interest.

Criminal charges were filed on the basis of the COA findings.