Philippine Leader Accepts Tourism Secretary’s Resignation

Karl Romano and Dennis Jay Santos
Manila and Davao City, Philippines
180508-PH-duterte-620.jpg Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte greets Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo prior to the start of a cabinet meeting at the Malacañang presidential palace in Manila, May 7, 2018.
HO/Presidential Communication Operations Office

President Rodrigo Duterte has accepted the resignation of his tourism secretary who was embroiled in a controversial multimillion-peso advertising deal, the second member of his cabinet to quit in as many months, the government said Tuesday.

Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo tendered her resignation late Monday, days after the Commission on Audit said in a report that her brother’s program on government television cornered state advertisements worth 60 million pesos (about U.S. $1.2 million).

Teo had sought to distance herself from the controversy, saying she was not involved in the deal. But documents provided by the state auditor showed that she had ordered that the ads be placed on her brother’s block-timer TV slot.

Her brothers who operated the program, Ben and Erwin, had initially denied any wrongdoing, but on Monday said they would return the funds.

“Yes, she has resigned and it was accepted,” Roque told BenarNews, adding that the state ombudsman has also said that an investigation to prosecute Teo was also being carried out.

In its report, the Commission on Audit said the Tulfos’ media company received ad buys from the government that were not supported by proper documents, including a “certificate of performance” as mandated by law.

Her lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, confirmed that Teo talked to Duterte Monday evening before the start of a regular cabinet meeting.

"Her decision to leave her position was made after a long and deliberate reflection and soul-searching with respect to the events that have transpired the past few weeks," Topacio said.

Teo’s resignation came a month after Duterte fired justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, the top government defender of the president’s drug war that has left thousands dead.

Tindig Pilipinas, an anti-corruption civic organization, hailed Duterte’s swift decision about Teo, but said the government must file cases against erring officials.

“It is not enough that he fires his cabinet member or any administration employee for the convenient reason of quelling public anger,” the group said Tuesday.

“Governance demands that cases be filed by anti-corruption commission that he formed against all the actors in this corrupt and nepotistic arrangement that was kept a secret, were it not for the brave souls of the Commission on Audit,” it said.

Both Teo and Aguirre, it said, should face the music, with the latter made to answer for his “corrupt orchestration” to clear all the alleged drug lords despite crucial witness accounts and confession.

Aguirre resigned in April after a panel of state prosecutors dismissed drug charges against businessman Peter Lim and Kerwin Espinosa, a man whom Duterte had described as among the top drug lords in the central Philippines.

Espinosa’s father, local town mayor Rolando Espinosa, surrendered to clear his name last year. But he was killed in a shootout that he started, according to police, when authorities came to his jail to serve him a search warrant.

The younger Espinosa went into hiding, but police said he was later caught in the United Arab Emirates. He had admitted to being a drug trafficker during a public inquiry at the Senate and had also testified against Sen. Leila de Lima, Duterte’s arch critic who was detained for allegedly receiving funds from drug lords to finance her senatorial campaign.

De Lima has denied the allegations.

Felipe Villamor in Msnila contributed to this report.

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