Ombudsman junks graft case vs Tulfo siblings on P60-million PTV ad deal
MANILA, Philippines — The Office of the Ombudsman has dismissed the graft complaints filed against former Tourism secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo, her brother Ben Tulfo, and other individuals in connection with the controversial P60-million TV ad deal due to lack of probable cause.
In a resolution dated October 6, the Ombudsman ruled that conspiracy cannot be established in this case because Teo was not privy to the contract entered into between People’s Television Network (PTV) and Bitag Media, which is owned by her brother. The Ombudsman said Teo was not aware that Kilos Pronto is produced by Bitag Media.
Based on the decision signed by Ombudsman Samuel Martires, a conspiracy among persons involved must be established to be able to prove a violation of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Teo, as head of the Department of Tourism (DOT) at the time the TV ad pact was forged, was accused of providing unwarranted benefits when tourism advertisements worth over P60 million were channeled into PTV and placed alongside Bitag Media programs aired on the public television station through a block-time agreement.
“There is no conspiracy. In the eyes of the law, conspiracy exists when two or more persons come to an agreement concerning the commission of the crime and decide to commit it,” the ruling penned by Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer III Rosano Oliva said.
“In the instant case, nowhere was it directly shown that Sec. Teo was aware that Kilos Pronto is owned by Bienvenido Tulfo, her sibling. There is also nothing on record showing that then Sec. Teo had performed an overt act in pursuance or in furtherance of the supposed complicity,” it added.
The Ombudsman also noted that Teo did not have a hand in the deal between PTV/People’s Television Network Inc. and Bitag Media regarding the DOT ads.
“As can be gleaned from these antecedent facts, it is clear that then-Secretary Teo’s participation and involvement in the questioned transactions is limited only insofar as DOT and PTV/ PTNI are concerned. In fact, all payments made by DOT were in favor of PTV/ PTNI,” the resolution explains.
“The insinuation that she has a hand in the side contract executed between PTV/ PTNI and BMUI (Bitag) through Kilos Pronto considering that its proprietor Bienvenido Tulfo is her sibling is unfounded,” it also states.
In addition to that, the Ombudsman also mentioned that the suggestion to have DOT ads aired through PTV did not come from Teo herself or Tulfo as it was Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar who brought up the proposal during a January 2017 Cabinet meeting.
The issue about a possible conflict of interest in the advertisement deals since Teo and Tulfo were siblings emerged when the Commission on Audit (COA) flagged the transaction in 2018.
COA’s marking of the transaction drew a broad condemnation of the Tulfos, prompting a Senate hearing on the said issue.
Teo maintained that there was no irregularity in the transactions as it was a government-to-government contract, adding that the corruption claims were incredible. A lawyer claiming to represent Bitag Media then said that the P60 million ad payment would be returned, but Tulfo said later on that the money was already gone because it was already used up.
Tulfo also said that he would not return the money as it came from a legitimate and clean transaction.
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