MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has filed a graft complaint against former tourism secretary Ramon Jimenez over a P1-billion ad campaign that allegedly did not undergo the proper bidding process.
NBI media officer Nick Suarez confirmed on Friday, May 4, that the complaint was filed before the Office of the Ombudsman on April 26. The stamp on the document showed the Ombudsman received it on April 27.
The NBI said the complaint stems from an investigation requested by Tourism Promotions Board Chairman Cesar Montano.
In the NBI’s transmittal letter to the Ombudsman, investigators alleged that “there are badges of fraud” in the disregard of the bidding process when the DOT awarded an ad campaign contract to Dentsu Philippines, Incorporated.
The NBI recommended that Jimenez and his subordinates at the DOT be prosecuted for graft.
The NBI complaint against the former tourism chief became public as Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo came under fire for the DOT's P60-million advertisement placements made to the media company of Teo’s brother, Ben Tulfo, a blocktimer at state-run PTV, in 2017.
The Commission on Audit has questioned the payments made to Tulfo's Bitag Media Unlimited, Incorporated, for DOT ads in the show Kilos Pronto produced by the blocktimer. COA said in its 2017 audit report on the People's Television Network, Incorporated, that the transactions were not supported by the required documents.
In 2012, the DOT under Jimenez bidded out a contract for the development of a multi-year media plan for the campaign, “It’s more fun in the Philippines.”
The contractor would “design, execute and implement the DOT’s media plan in various forms such as digital, broadcast, outdoor/out-of-home, print, etc for the ‘It’s more fun in the Philippines’ tourism brand campaign.”
According to the NBI, Dentsu was declared ineligible on July 19, 2012 due to the absence of the required latest Income Tax Return (ITR) and audited financial statement.
NBI’s records showed that Dentsu submitted its financial statements on the same day, and was eventually shortlisted by the Special Bids and Awards Committee (SBAC) on July 24, 2012.
Dentsu was awarded the contract on October 12, 2012. The P199.95-million contract was until December 2012.
The contract was renewed twice – in 2013 for P400 million for the period of January to June, and again in October 2013 for P599.780 million, for the period of September 2013 to February 2014.
All in all, the contracts amounted to P1.199 billion.
“It must be pointed out that Dentsu was declared ineligible due to failure to submit the audited financial statement. Dentsu was given 3 days to file its Motion for Reconsideration. It must be emphasised that under Section 30.1 of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR), R.A 9184 provides the non-discretionary pass/fail criteria,” the NBI said.
Republic Act 9184 is the Government Procurement Reform Act.
The NBI added: “Essentially, this means that the absence, incompleteness or insufficiency of a document shall make a prospective bidder ineligible to bid for the particular procurement.”
The NBI also raised the irregularity of renewing the contracts twice, noting that the contracts allowed to be extended are those only for “general services which are essential, indispensable, or necessary to support the operation of the procuring entity or for the enhancement of the welfare of its personnel.”
According to the NBI’s transmittal letter, Jimenez supposedly said that a renewed contract would be subjected for bidding only “when there is an entirely new campaign.”
“In the particular instance, he (Jimenez) explained that it is very disruptive to rebid the existing campaign,” the NBI said.
RA 9184 allows a negotiated procurement, an “extraordinary” method that permits an agency to directly negotiate with a contractor.
“Assuming that what happened is a negotiated procurement, still, the extension/renewal is violative of Section 53 of RA 9184,” the NBI said.
Section 53 states that the contractor “should use the same prices or lower unit prices as in the original contract” and that the “amount involved does not exceed the amount of the ongoing project.”
“Such patent disregard of the procurement laws is highly irregular,” the NBI said.
It is unclear from the transmittal letter who initiated the NBI investigation.
Included in the recommendation for graft prosecution aside from Jimenez are: SBAC vice chairperson Evelyn Cajigal, Assistant Secretary Benito Bengzon, Guiller Asido of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) and Dentsu’s Rommelyn Martinez and Maria Donna Nanagas.
Jimenez said in a statement to Rappler that the complaint is apparently intended to veer public attention from the controversy hounding his successor at the DOT.
Aside from the DOT ad placement controversy, people are also questioning why Teo's husband, Roberto Teo, remains a board member of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprize Zone Authority (TIEZA), an attached agency of the DOT.
"We believe these 'charges' are meant to draw public attention away from the current controversy involving the current Department of Tourism leadership and PTV4 where nearly P60 million was allegedly spent to buy airtime in a TV program owned and produced by a preferred party," Jimenez said.
The former tourism chief said he welcomed the chance to show how the previous DOT leadership observed transparency and accountability.
"In a way, I would welcome an opportunity to dramatize the stark contrast between our devotion to transparency and accountability and the crude methods of media planning and buying that appear to be the prevailing practice today," Jimenez said. – Rappler.com