COA reports

Ombudsman was wrong: COA ordered PTV to refund Tulfo payment

Lian Buan
Ombudsman was wrong: COA ordered PTV to refund Tulfo payment
The Commission on Audit will resolve the appeal on the disallowances, but if they are upheld, Ben Tulfo and PTV must return P75 million

The Commission on Audit (COA) had issued notices of disallowance (NDs) against P75.8 million worth of payments of state-run Peoples’ Television (PTV) to Ben Tulfo’s Bitag Media over a controversial tourism advertisement deal – contrary to what the Office of the Ombudsman said in its ruling dismissing a graft complaint against those involved.

In clearing Tulfo, PTV executives, and Tulfo’s sister, former tourism secretary Wanda Teo, of graft, the ruling approved by Ombudsman Samuel Martires on October 6 said that “there is no evidence on record showing that [the transaction] had ripened to a Notice of Suspension (NS) or Notice of Disallowance (ND).”

A countercheck of the 2020 audit of PTV, which was uploaded on August 17 or a month before the first draft of ruling by Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer Rosano Oliva on September 30, would show that there were in fact NDs – two of them way back 2019.

The audit shows that COA issued two NDs to PTV, one in May for P60,009,560 worth of payments to Bitag, and another in June for 15,789,133.70 worth of payments to Bitag. An ND has the consequence of a refund.

According to the audit report, these two NDs are under appeal.

It brings up two questions: Did the Ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office (FIO), which acted as the complainant, fail to put the NDs on record? Could Oliva, or Martires, have been more proactive in researching since the audit report has been up on the website since August 17, or a month before the first draft of the resolution?

The project involves an agency-to-agency procurement where the Department of Tourism (DOT), then under Teo, would air promotional materials on PTV, with much less viewership than the major networks. PTV then outsourced it to their blocktimer Bitag Media owned by Teo’s brother Tulfo, who earned P75 million from the deal.

The Ombudsman ruling said there was no crime of graft in awarding the project to the brother of an official making the payment.

Audits

The ruling did take note of the audit observations, which include the lack of proper documents, but went on to claim that there was no ND anyway.

The ruling did say that: “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.”

The FIO can file a motion for reconsideration. Meanwhile, COA will have to resolve the appeal. If the appeals are dismissed by the commission, Tulfo and PTV would have to return P75 million.

Even the amount was undervalued in the ruling. The ruling said only P66.32 million was paid to Bitag Media. A document earlier obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) showed that as of May 2018, the gross amount of payment was P74.6 million and the net amount was P71.06 million.

Teo had said that she didn’t know Bitag Media was owned by her brother Ben, nor did she have any involvement in PTV’s outsourcing of the project to Bitag. PTV executives said they were not aware that Teo and Tulfo were siblings. It also didn’t appear that there was bidding, since PTV readily gave Bitag a contract after a visit to Tulfo’s office.

But in all of these acts, the Ombudsman said there was no conspiracy and cleared them all.

– Rappler.com

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 lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.