Wanda Tulfo-Teo backs brother's refusal to return millions from Tourism ad deal

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Former Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo and her brother, broadcaster Ben Tulfo

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 14) — Former Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo on Tuesday said she was personally against the clamor for her brother to return the money paid to his company by the Department of Tourism.

"Ang unang desisyon ko ay hindi pwede. I said mahirap kasi nagastos na ang pera. They already paid, marami nang nagawa," she said during the first Senate hearing on the controversial advertising deal between DOT and state-run television PTV-4.

When Senator Risa Hontiveros prodded her again, Teo still said no.

"Personal na tingin niyo po ay dapat isauli ang pera? Hindi rin? I'm disappointed to hear that," the senator said.

Teo said her former lawyer Ferdinand Topacio advised her to suggest to Ben to return the money paid to his media company, Bitag Media Unlimited Inc.

According to PTV, Bitag Media was paid P71.6 million — or 75 percent of the DOT-PTV-4 deal — for the placement of Tourism ads on blocktimer Kilos Pronto, which was hosted by Ben and Erwin Tulfo and Alex Santos. Topacio earlier announced Ben agreed to return it.

The resigned secretary said she "forced" Ben upon her legal counsel's prodding, but the decision was ultimately up to her brother.

"Nagawa na kasi, natapos na ang kontrata. Nagastos na ang pera. Saan kukunin ang perang pambayad?" she said.

Related: Wanda Tulfo-Teo: 'Nothing illegal' in Tourism ad placements on PTV, Bitag Media

Tulfo remained firm in his stand against returning the millions of pesos to the government, taking into consideration the legal advice of Bitag Media's lawyers.

"Why would we return the money when we have faithfully delivered? Returning the money is tantamount to saying we did something illegal... That would extinguish the legality of my contract with PTV," he said.

Tulfo added that returning the earnings will imply that there was a conspiracy between him and Teo.

"Wala sa isip kong magsauli kasi wala akong ginawang illegal. Papanindigan namin ang kontrata," he said.

Tulfo said it's unfair that there is a perceived conflict of interest just because they are siblings. He said he has never asked for favors from the former Tourism chief. He even said they are not close as a family.

Hontiveros said there is clear indication that there is a conflict of interest in the deal involving DOT and Bitag Media.

"This is precisely why I'm asking the question about the necessity of returning the money, kasi mukhang product talaga ng conflict of interest na prejudicial sa republika," the senator said.

She added there is also a violation of ethical standards of government employees when Teo's former agency entered the transaction with her brother's company.

"Higit pang mataas sa legalidad ay 'yung etika. Kung ang isang alleged conflict of interest ay maaaring sabihing legal, pero ayon sa batas, hindi po iyan etikal," Hontiveros concluded.

Tulfo-Teo maintained there was no conflict of interest, insisting all deals were aboveboard. She added she was unaware Kilos Pronto was hosted by her brothers.

The Commission on Audit found there was a "possible conflict of interest" in the DOT-PTV deal.

Teo is facing an investigation before the Ombudsman. Meanwhile, Senator Sonny Trillanes is mulling filing plunder charges against Teo, Ben, and Erwin for their refusal to return the money.