Trillanes readies plunder raps vs ex-DOT chief, Tulfo brods
Opposition Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV is not waiting for hell to freeze over before filing plunder charges against former Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo and her brothers Ben and Erwin Tulfo over a P60-million advertising deal that had been disallowed by the Commission on Audit (COA).
Trillanes announced his plan on Monday after Ben Tulfo taunted critics on Facebook last week, saying they could wait until hell freezes over, he would not return the money.
“I intend to file a plunder case against the Tulfo siblings in relation to the P60-million DOT (Department of Tourism) ad controversy,” the senator said in a statement.
Malacañang on Monday said President Rodrigo Duterte wanted the controversy to be resolved through the legal process.
“The latest declaration of the President here, and I asked him explicitly, is we will let the legal process proceed. Let those liable be held responsible,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told reporters.
Told that Ben Tulfo had said he would not return the money, Roque said: “So be it.”
Informed about Trillanes’ plan to bring plunder charges against the Tulfos, Roque said the senator’s complaint would be the second, as the Office of the Ombudsman had already taken cognizance of the matter.
He explained that, before Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales retired last week, she had started an investigation of the controversy.
Roque also said the Ombudsman would likely look into allegations that two other people, whom he did not name, benefited from the advertising deal.
Trillanes called on the Senate blue ribbon committee to act on his resolution seeking an inquiry into the controversy “so we could determine the magnitude of corruption, specifically, how much more of the people’s money was squandered by the previous DOT leadership.”
Sen. Panfilo Lacson backed Trillanes’ resolution, saying in a text message to reporters on Monday that the blue ribbon committee should open an inquiry “to ferret out the truth behind the issues involved.”
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the decision whether the matter needed a Senate inquiry rested with Sen. Richard Gordon, head of the blue ribbon committee.
“I’ll talk to the chairman and find out what’s brewing,” he told reporters on Monday.
Sotto said he could not comment suitably on the controversy, as he did not know whether the ads had already been aired.
If the ads had already been aired, then the contract had been consummated and there was no money to return, he said.
He said, however, that even without an investigation, the Senate would necessarily look into the matter as the chamber would have to scrutinize the budget of the DOT and PTV 4.
The controversial advertising deal has cost Teo her job.
She resigned in May amid charges of conflict of interest.
Return the money
Critics have demanded the Tulfos return the P60 million, which the COA reported had been paid to Bitag Media Unlimited Inc. of Ben Tulfo for ads on his program “Kilos Pronto,” which he cohosts with his brother Erwin on government-owned PTV 4, without a contract.
In a Facebook post on Thursday, Ben Tulfo denied stealing from the government and claimed the money was paid to his company for services rendered.
Writing in Filipino, he said: “To those who are saying we should return the money and they are waiting for us to return the P60 million—they can wait until hell freezes over, we will return nothing.” —With a report from Christine O. Avendaño
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