'Buhay Carinderia' gets P80M in a month under Cesar Montano

MANILA, Philippines – Being paid for services rendered for the government does not come fast and easy, but a tourism project had it quicker than every one else.

Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) head Cesar Montano has been under fire for the project Buhay Carinderia...Redefinedwhich received P80 million from the agency in less than a month.

The issue got the attention of newly-sworn Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat, who said she will meet with Montano to discuss allegations of corruption against him.

It was not the first time such accusations were hurled against Montano. In 2017, TPB employees filed a complaint against him for allegedly "mismanaging" the board, misusing funds, and approving contracts for events where he himself performed.

What is Buhay CarinderiaDocuments acquired by Rappler showed that Buhay Carinderia is a food tourism project with advertising company Mary Lindbert International. 

In a memorandum of agreement dated March 15, 2018, TPB agreed with the advertising company, through its president Erlinda Legaspi, to provide financial sponsorship for the first phase of the project amounting to P80 million.

Buhay Carinderia, according to the agreement, would "play an important role" in the promotion of gastronomic tourism in the country.

Buhay Carinderia MOA on Scribd

Buhay Carinderia is said to be Legaspi's "brainchild", which was first launched in 2011. Events surrounding the project were held annually by Mary Lindbert, but this year's Buhay Carinderia was the first to have TPB as the "sole presenter or sponsor" of the event.

The agreement said the project supposedly "finds thrusts" in the government's long-term development plan Ambisyon Natin 2040, "wherein Filipinos will enjoy a strongly rooted, comfortable, and secure life."

Did it follow the right process? Sources told Rappler that the project was not bidded out, rather it involved "direct contracting." 

Republic Act No 9184 or the Government Procurement Act says that direct contracting is an alternative method of procurement. However, it can only be done under the following conditions:

The memorandum of agreement showed that Mary Lindbert is the "exclusive owner" of Buhay Carinderia, which was "duly registered" under the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines.

Whether or not there were better companies than Mary Lindbert, the TPB and the Department of Tourism (DOT) were expecting benefits and media values through the project amounting to around P169.81 million, according to the agreement.

Were funds disbursed swiftly? Based on the agreement, Mary Lindbert would be paid by TPB in 4 tranches, following the submission of the following requirements:

Under the media plan acquired by Rappler, the timeline of payments indicated by Mary Lindbert was scheduled as follows:

The signing of the agreement was done on March 15, 2018. Informed tourism sources confirmed that by March 19, a P13.44 million check was issued to Mary Lindbert. The agreement was notarized only on March 20 – after the check was issued.

On the same day the agreeement was notarized, another check was issued for the advertising company amounting to P31.36 million.

Payment for the third tranche at P35.84 million was also paid for by TPB on April 17, a few days after Buhay Carinderia's media launch on April 11.

According to sources, 90% of the total funds had been paid to Mary Lindbert in a span of less than a month for only "15% of the work done" by the company.

Several other segments such as the search for the best food in 15 provinces, mentoring students, and the search for the Philippine Tourism Millennial Ambassador had yet to be completed but bulk of the payment for the project had already been made.

Making a connection? According to sources, it was resigned tourism chief Wanda Tulfo Teo who knew Legaspi, the head of Mary Lindbert. Legaspi and Teo got to know each other through fashion and pageants.

Legaspi is said to be close to fashion designer Renee Salud who turned out to be Buhay Carinderia's project director for pre-pageant activites in 2015.

Teo is also known to patronize Salud – from wearing the designer's gown during the State of the Nation Address in 2017 to even hiring him in several DOT projects such as the controversial Miss Universe fashion show in Davao.

In a previous inteview with Singapore-based magazine TGG Asia, Teo said she used to model for Salud before joining the travel industry.

Rid tourism of corruption? In March, the former DOT secretary was mum and refused to comment further when corruption allegations were being hurled at Montano. Amid the charges, the TPB chief still continued to enjoy the support of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Teo resigned after the Commission on Audit (COA) questioned the P60 million ($1.15 million) paid by the tourism department for ad placements on the show of Teo's brothers, Ben and Erwin Tulfo. The then-tourism chief was allegedly fired by Duterte, but Teo's camp denied the allegations.

Duterte appointed Puyat, a former agriculture undersecretary, following Teo's resignation. The new tourism chief said Duterte gave her strict orders to rid the agency of corruption. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.