Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo resigns 'out of delicadeza'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 8) — President Rodrigo Duterte accepted the resignation of Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo on Tuesday.

Teo handed in her resignation letter to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea Monday in the wake of the ₱60-million tourism advertising deal between the government network and the television program of her brothers. This was hours before her one-on-one meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte after the Cabinet meeting in Malacañan Palace.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque told CNN Philippines it seemed like a "very serious discussion," but said he was not privy to what they talked about.

He added the President did not give any reason for accepting Teo's resignation and has not chosen a replacement as yet.

Teo's legal counsel Ferdinand Topacio said in a media briefing "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."

He added, "She wants to show she has delicadeza."

Topacio said Teo initially planned on staying on as Tourism Chief to clear her name, but said she felt she was harming the President's credibility.

"She thought it would be better to spare everyone further pain, including the President, to simply leave the office... Notwithstanding the fact that she felt she still enjoyed the trust and confidence of the President, the enemies of the President were seizing upon this issue to do harm to the presidency," he said.

Topacio reiterated Duterte did not fire Teo nor ask her to resign.

"Teo reiterates that she has done no wrongdoing, and that all the dealings of the DOT went through all legal processes, were above-board and done in good faith, and with total absence of malice," he said.

Teo is the fifth official to leave the Cabinet, following the resignation of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre. Others were Commission on Higher Education Chair Patricia Licuanan, Information and Communications Technology chief Rodolfo Salalima, and former Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council Chairman, Vice President Leni Robredo.

Teo had denied conflict of interest in the ad deal, saying the Tourism Department also placed television commercials and TV features in other local and international media networks.

READ: Tulfos to return P60M from DOT ad deal to end controversy – Teo's lawyer

The Tourism Secretary got caught in the controversy after the Commission on Audit (COA) revealed her department paid ₱60.009 million in three tranches to state-run television network PTV-4. PTV-4 then paid Bitag Media Unlimited Inc (BMUI) – the production house owned by Tulfo-Teo's brother Ben Tulfo - to place commercials on "Kilos Pronto." It is the show on PTV-4 which features Ben and Erwin Tulfo and Alex Santos.

The Tulfo program is a blocktimer so the show is supposed to pay PTV-4 for the air time.

COA said the transaction lacked supporting documents.

Topacio said Teo was not aware her brothers hosted "Kilos Pronto" and Ben Tulfo owned Bitag Media.

He added Bitag Media Unlimited Inc - the production house owned by Ben Tulfo - will still return the P60 million paid to them by the Tourism Department despite Teo's resignation.

"It's delicadeza to protect the family name and to show the Tulfos do not wish to benefit from government funds," he said.

Not yet off the hook

Malacañang said it expects the Office of the Ombudsman to look into possible criminal charges that may be filed against Teo and other officials linked to the ad deal.

"Hinahayaan na po ng palasyo sa Ombdusman na mag-imbestiga para malaman kung may pananagutang criminal pa po si secretary Teo. Inaasahan po namin ang mabilis at transparent na imbestigasyon ng Ombudsman," Roque said in a media briefing on Tuesday.

Roque said the Office of the Executive Secretary has looked into the allegations, but he's uncertain if the probe's been concluded.

"Sabihin nalang po natin na parang naunahan na ng resignation ang pinal na rekomendasyon ng executive secretary," he said.

He added Malacañang does not see Teo's resignation as an admission of guilt.

"I think, Sec. Teo being a close associate of the president, did what she thought was the best course of action and we thank her," Roque said.

Senator Nancy Binay has filed a resolution to look into how the Tourism Department spends its budget in advertising and marketing.

"Siguro kailangan natin alamin kung paano nila nira-rationalize ang local advertising placements and if they are congruent with the strategic marketing and media plans of the department," she said in a statement on Monday.

A number of senators said the investigation should push through.

"Yes, and definitely this Senate will scrutinize this particular budget item of departments, not just DOT (Department of Tourism)," Senator Joel Villanueva said.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said it will initiate an investigation on the issue.

Topacio said Teo is ready to face investigations if she is summoned by the Senate or the Ombudsman.

"We welcome that to show she really did not know it will come to this. She was not informed of the fact that 'Kilos Pronto' is hosted by her brothers and produced by Ben Tulfo. She was only informed later on. Do you think if she knew, she wouldn't have vetoed it?" he said.

CNN Philippines' Eimor Santos contributed to this report.