Puyat ‘uncomfortable’ over tourism projects without public bidding

Aika Rey
Puyat ‘uncomfortable’ over tourism projects without public bidding
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat says she has concerns over projects under TPB chief Cesar Montano's watch that did not pass through public bidding

MANILA, Philippines – Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat on Thursday, May 17 said she was “uncomfortable” that projects under the Tourism Promotion Board (TPB) do not undergo public bidding.

In a press briefing, Puyat said that Montano explained during their meeting on Wednesday, May 16 that TPB projects are “usually” sponsorship deals hence, these do not undergo the usual bidding processes.

“In my case, maybe it’s just different how things work in TPB, but I’m from the DA (Department of Agriculture). I asked if there was bidding, apparently in TPB, they grant sponsorships, so there’s no bidding. But that’s how things work in TPB, I was told,” Puyat said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Puyat met with Montano Wednesday evening to discuss the sponsorship deal involving Buhay Carinderia…Redefined, in which TPB issued 90% of the P80-million sponsorship funds to Mary Lindbert International in less than a month for only “15% of the work done.” 

Puyat said Montano “acted in good faith” but she expressed concerns over the process, as she said that her experience in the DA would not allow such moves in authorizing use of public funds. 

“I think he acted on good faith. But I think, since I’m used to bidding projects no matter how small the value is, at least I’m more comfortable that there is bidding and that it is transparent,” she said.

The tourism chief also said she wanted to “change the process” on how TPB should manage projects.

“As the chair, I think I have the right to change the process because we’re talking about public funds,” she said.

According to her, Montano did not tender his resignation to Puyat during the meeting. She maintained that Montano’s term had already expired and is now only functioning as a holdover official.

She said that the Tourism Congress will convene in June and will elect a new TPB head.

COA review

Earlier on Thursday, Puyat wrote to the Commission on Audit (COA), requesting TPB’s pending and ongoing programs to be reviewed.

Asked whether Buhay Carinderia will be suspended, Puyat said she would leave it to COA if the money issued to Mary Lindbert International would have to be returned.

Puyat also ordered TPB on Thursday to send the tourism department a list of all ongoing and pending projects indicating its status.

She also said that there will be a strict review of all foreign travels, following Montano’s rushed speech in New York because he needed to watch the play Hamilton.

“Not because you’re in DOT, you can travel all over the world. It’s people’s money. That’s not right. I’m very strict because that’s people’s money,” she said.

‘Very humble’

Despite the strict orders coming out of the secretary’s office, Puyat said she found Montano to be “very humble” and cooperative.

She said she will meet with Montano again later on Thursday to discuss other projects of the TPB.  (READ: Cesar Montano, DOT chief Romulo Puyat meet privately)

“I found him very humble [because] he was willing to help. Hindi siya  (He was not) defensive. He is very truthful. If medyo defensive, magtataray na ako noon. (If he was a bit defensive, I would have been snobbish),” she told reporters.

Back in March 2017, TPB employees filed a complaint against Montano for allegedly “mismanaging” the board. They accused him of misusing funds and approving contracts for events where he himself performed. (READ: Cesar Montano says he’s not affected by mismanagement issues in TPB)

Amid the charges, the TPB chief still continued to enjoy the support of President Rodrigo Duterte. – with reports from Ralf Rivas/Rappler.com

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Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.