DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo on Friday, February 16, defended her decision to bring department drivers, clerks, and utility workers to official trips abroad, saying these people deserved it.
Teo called for a press conference to respond to a Philippine Star report that detailed her foreign trips and the people she brought with her, following the issuance of new Palace guidelines on officials’ overseas travels.
Referring to the Department of Tourism (DOT) drivers, clerks, and a utility worker she had allowed to go on a Star Ships cruise, Teo claimed that the government did not spend anything on these trips.
“Star Cruise gave us 10 cabins because we were partnered with them at the time they launched a maiden flight,” she said in Filipino.
Instead of giving out the slots to DOT officials, Teo said she chose to give them to DOT employees who had never traveled in their life even after serving the government for decades.
“They’ve been with DOT for 30 years but they have never traveled,” Teo said.
While the government might have not spent anything on the cruise itself, government employees who go on official trips abroad are entitled to per diem and other allowances.
On her decision to bring along Angelito Ucol – described in the Philippine Star report as Teo’s “makeup artist” – to her foreign travels, Teo clarified that Ucol is her executive assistant and as a Cabinet official, she was entitled to bring her executive assistant to her foreign travels.
Aside from Ucol, Teo also brought along another assistant, Marinela Miranda.
Referring to Ucol, she said: “Hindi siya makeup artist (He’s not a makeup artist). He goes with me in one of the trips. He works in the office, he files, he types. Nagtatrabaho po siya (He works).”
Palace, COA guidelines
In an interview on dzXL, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said it was not surprising for Teo herself to go on a number of foreign travels because of the nature of her job.
As for Teo’s decision to allow clerks and other rank-and-file DOT employees to join official trips abroad, Roque said the Commission on Audit (COA) “has rules on who can join” these trips.
He added that Cabinet officials are “allowed to bring a maximum of 4 people” on foreign trips and if they bring more, this would be subject to COA review or a notice of disallowance.
In early January, Malacañang released new guidelines for foreign trips of officials and employees in executive offices, following the pronouncement of President Rodrigo Duterte against “excessive” overseas travels in government.
Under the guidelines, officials trips can only be approved by the heads if they fulfill the following criteria:
- The purpose of the trip is strictly within the mandate of the requesting official or personnel
- The projected expenses of the trip are not excessive
- The trip is expected to bring substantial benefit to the country
Duterte had fired Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP) chairman Terry Ridon, Commission on Higher Education chair Patricia Licuanan, and Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) Administrator Marcial Quirico Amaro III for their supposed frequent travels abroad. – Rappler.com