Tourism Chief asks for courtesy resignation of all DOT executives but reveals she will retain at least one undersecretary

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President Rodrigo Duterte administered the oath of office to Bernadette Romulo-Puyat Monday in Malacañang.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 15) - Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat has directed all of the department's undersecretaries and assistant secretaries to submit their courtesy resignations, but revealed she is retaining at least one of them.

She said she will retain Undersecretary Bong Bengzon and will bring in former Assistant DOT Regional Director and Assistant Secretary Arturo Boncato Jr. as undersecretary.

"He is a career official. He's been there for about 32-33 years so definitely he will stay," she told CNN Philippines' News Night, referring to Bengzon.

In a separate media briefing, she assured officials that while they were asked to submit their courtesy resignations similar to what was done by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra in his department, they should not fear losing their jobs.

"This afternoon, I also asked for the [courtesy] resignations of all the usecs and the asecs. But of course, it does not mean na mawawala na sila [it does not mean they will be out of DOT]," she said.

Puyat said some undersecretaries and assistant secretaries have voluntarily submitted their courtesy resignations. The senior officials were given until next week to resign.

Among those who handed in their resignation letters to the President is Tourism Assistant Secretary Ricky Alegre, to give Puyat "a free hand" to choose who will stay in the department.

"Because of unforeseen circumstances, I feel it is necessary to tender this courtesy resignation because we all just definitely serve at the pleasure of the President," Alegre said in his letter.

 

Puyat said the reassignment of posts will be based on their performance and whether they fit her vision for the department.

"And maybe who knows? Some of them might not want to work with me," she added.

Puyat also does not want to remove all officials immediately even if she lawfully can because the department is in the middle of "budget season."

On former DOT official Boncato, Puyat said: "I only met him last Friday and I was very impressed with his credentials. This man already knows the Department of Tourism inside out so I offered him the undersecretary post."

Puyat also said she will check every contract that was signed because she will be liable when she would implement anomalous projects.

'Buhay Carinderia'

She has also arranged a meeting today with Cesar Montano, Tourism Promotions Board chief operating officer, to personally get his side on the P80-million full payment for the "Buhay Carinderia" project, one of the government's food tourism programs, even as the event has yet to be completed. The project also did not go through bidding.

"First, I would like to ask him with regard to his budget, was there a proper bidding? Did you just give this to an organizer?" Puyat said.

"Because I would be very bothered if this was given to a friend," she said.

Asked if she agrees with the shutdown of Boracay Island for six months, she said, "right now, it's moot and academic because when I entered [DOT], it's closed."

Plans for DOT

In separate interview with CNN Philippines, the Tourism Secretary said she has yet to review the Nickelodeon Park greenlighted by her predecessor.

"A while ago, somebody was telling me that supposedly daw when they set up the Nickelodeon sustainable daw, etcetera etcetera," she said.

"But until it has been explained to me how they are going to set it up, I don't want to comment."

She also revealed that she talked to former broadcaster Tourism Undersecretary Kat de Castro over the issue of allegedly hiring her boyfriend's band for a DOT event. "I did mention it kanina [earlier] and she told me...there was never a time government money was used to hiring," Romulo-Puyat said.

The new Tourism Secretary also shared her learnings from her predecessor.

"With Wanda Teo, it was more 'be careful of everything you sign'," she said.

Romulo-Puyat said that at the end of the day, money is not important but one's reputation.