Boracay expenditures from 2018 hound ex-DOT chief Teo, 4 others
MANILA, Philippines — For exceeding the daily budget limit for hotel accommodations, former officials of the Department of Tourism (DOT) — including then-Secretary Wanda Tulfo Teo — are now being asked to pay more than P456,000 for the accumulated period they spent at a luxury hotel in Boracay in 2018.
This was after the Commission on Audit (COA) denied the petition for money claim filed by Discovery World Corp. (DWC), the company behind Discovery Shores Boracay, against the DOT for the payment of hotel rooms, meals, and other services amounting to a total of P456,716.50, plus interests, penalties, litigation suit, and other related expenses.
From the end of February to the end of April 2018, on separate occasions, Teo, then Tourism Undersecretary Katherine de Castro, Tourism Assistant Secretary Frederick Alegre, and DOT executive assistants Angelito Ucol and Julius Disamburun stayed at the five-star hotel for consultations and meetings in connection with the rehabilitation of Boracay Island during the Duterte administration.
Based on DWC’s money claim petition, Teo made bookings for two separate overnight stays—from March 1 to March 2 and from April 25 to April 26. De Castro stayed from Feb. 28 to March 2 and from April 25 to April 26. Alegre stayed from March 1 to March 3 and was back on April 25 to April 26. Ucol and Disamburun stayed overnight on the same date, April 25 to 26.
They incurred a total of P313,716.50 for meals, beverages, and other services at the resort’s restaurant, bar, and spa, while their accommodation expenses reached P143,000.
EO No. 248
The resort sent letters to the DOT to demand payment. But it was already Teo’s successor, Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, who responded, explaining to the company that the DOT “is precluded from giving due course” to the demand and that it should instead file a petition for money claim at the COA.
In a four-page decision dated May 30, 2022, but made public only this week, the COA said the petition by Discovery Shores was “devoid of merit.”
It explained that under Executive Order No. 248, travel expenses of government personnel, regardless of rank and designation, are “rationalized to be fair and equitable.”
Under the EO, the total actual fare, cost of meals, and incidental expenses “shall in no case exceed” P400 per day.
The COA noted the rate of the room in the resort was P13,000 per night, far exceeding the limit.
Overall, a government employee has allowable expenses of P800 per day, half of which is for hotel and other lodging fees.
The state auditors also found out that only three DOT personnel were authorized to travel and attend the meetings for the Boracay Island rehabilitation task force.
The COA said the bookings were made based on a decision by the DOT-Western Visayas regional director, Helen Catalbas, who said the expenses should be charged from the DOT secretary’s funds.
But the commission said Catalbas should have been guided by the EO.
“The petitioner, nonetheless, is not left without recourse. The claimant may recover directly from RD Catalbas and/or the DOT personnel who benefited from its services,” read the COA decision.
“Considering that the main cause of action was denied, the claim for legal interest, penalty charge, litigation expenses, cost of suit, and other related expenses has no leg to stand on,” it added.
Ad deal, resignation
Teo’s stint as tourism chief ended in controversy in May 2018, when Malacañang announced her resignation.
The COA then flagged the P60-million advertising placements made by the DOT on the program hosted by Teo’s brothers Ben and Erwin on the state-run People’s Television Network. The ad deal, according to the COA, was done without documents showing the payments were valid and legal.