Office of the Ombudsman

‘No conspiracy’: Ombudsman clears Teo, PTV, Tulfo in P120-M ad deal

Lian Buan
‘No conspiracy’: Ombudsman clears Teo, PTV, Tulfo in P120-M ad deal

TULFO SIBLINGS. Tourism secretary Wanda Teo, and his brothers Ben and Erwin Tulfo attend a Senate hearing in 2018 on the DOT-PTV ad deal.

File photo by Angie de Silva

'Nowhere was it directly shown that Secretary Teo was aware that Kilos Pronto is owned by Ben Tulfo, her sibling.' says the resolution

Ombudsman Samuel Martires has cleared former tourism secretary Wanda Teo, Bitag Media owner Ben Tulfo – who is Teo’s brother – and officials of state-run Peoples’ Television (PTV) in the P120-million ad deal that was flagged by auditors for incomplete documents and conflict of interest.

“There is no conspiracy, nowhere was it directly shown that Secretary Teo was aware that Kilos Pronto is owned by Ben Tulfo, her sibling. There is also nothing on record that then Secretary Teo performed an overt act in pursuance of furtherance of the supposed complicity,” said the resolution drafted by Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer Rosano Oliva on September 30, 2021 and approved by Ombudsman Samuel Martires on October 6.

The Ombudsman also ruled there was no undue injury to the government because 

“Based on evidence, Bitag Media through the program Kilos Pronto complied with its contractual obligations even exceeding the airtime as agreed upon. In short, the government got its monies’ worth.”

The project involves an agency-to-agency procurement of the Department of Tourism (DOT) then under Teo and PTV to air promotional tourism materials. PTV then outsourced it to Bitag Media owned by Teo’s brother Tulfo.

Tulfo’s Bitag was paid P71 million for the deal, or almost 60% of the total project budget which was P120 million for allotting its blocktime airitime to the DOT materials. It’s 75% of the P95 million that was actually disbursed by DOT to PTV.

PTV also hired new staff to produce the materials, which was eventually called as i-Travel Pinas, even though PTV has its own production team. These are according to documents obtained earlier by Rappler through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

State auditors had flagged the project for lacking a memorandum of agreement, and then for conflict of interest, but the Ombudsman said the audit observation memorandum (AOM) “did not ripen to a Notice of Suspension (NS) or Notice of Disallowance (ND).”

“Even granting for the sake of argument that an NS or ND had in fact been issued, there is nothing on record showing that it had gained finality as there are other legal remedies under the COA rules of Procedure which are available to respondents,” said the Ombudsman.

The Commission on Audit (COA) had flagged the project because there was no memorandum of agreement (MOA) between PTV and Bitag Media, but it a MOA was eventually presented to the Ombudsman by PTV’s head of airtime management group, Ramon del Rosario.

The investigators, the Field Investigation Office (FIO) of the Ombudsman, acted as complainants and said there was no MOA between PTV and Bitag, something that was not addressed in the resolution.

It was a motu proprio (on its own) investigation ordered by then ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales.

Teo eventually resigned in May 2018 after more corruption issues hounded the DOT, like the anomalous Buhay Carinderia program under Cesar Montano.

“I am grateful for the resolution of the office of the Ombudsman dismissing all the charges pertaining to the 60 million DOT funds. This ruling clearly shows that the rule of law and justice is alive and well in this beautiful country,” said Teo in a statement.

They did not know the relations

“The acts of DOT and PTV officials were geared to a common goal to favor Bitag media to advertise DOT tourism ads and eventually got almost 75% of the 120 million peso branding the projects of DOT. They conspired to favor Bitag media owned by the sibling of Teo, through the TV program kilos pronto,” said the FIO in its complaint.

Teo said she never knew that Bitag was owned by her brother Ben, saying in her counter-affidavit “while they are siblings, they are not close to each other and they rarely talk or see one another.”

Teo’s involvement was also just with PTV, said both the affidavit and the resolution, as it was PTV who made the deal with Bitag Media on its own.

But PTV’s Del Rosario and general manager Dino Apolonio said they both were not aware that Teo and Tulfo were siblings. Del Rosario added “he only came to know that Secretary Teo and Mr Tulfo are siblings when the news broke out in the media and the internet.”

“Records show Teo was not in any way privy to the contract entered into between PTV and Bitag relative to DOT tourism promotional advertisement,” said the Ombudsman resolution.

The Ombudsman said it was worthy to note that it was not even Teo’s idea to do the deal with PTV, but it was Martin Andanar’s, secretary of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO).

Value for money?

Did PTV bid out the project?

Tulfo himself admitted that after Del Rosario and Apolonio visited their production house in February 2017, the PTV executives were “impressed” and by April 3, 2017, PTV had sent them a MOA.

It was on February 6, 2017 that PTV wrote to DOT to propose to air the spot placements.

PTV said Bitag Media aired 167 segments, or ten more than what was in the contract.

PTV said it was also a discounted price, because the project would have cost P272 million elsewhere.

Kilos Pronto’s rate of P27,000 per 30 seconds and P54,000 for every 60-second spots are PTV’s standard rate, said Tulfo.  Tulfo added Kilos Pronto’s P227,000 per six-minute segment are also cheaper than local networks.

The project had been slammed because if the government wanted exposure for the DOT materials, it would have been wiser to air on channels which have significantly more viewers than PTV.

But the Ombudsman resolution says “the government got its monies worth.” –

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.