Photo from Bitag Media Unlimited's website
MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang said Ben Tulfo's refusal to return P60 million his media company earned from Department of Tourism (DOT) ad placements will not affect the Office of the Ombudsman's probe into the controversy.
"Since Ben said they aren't returning it, so be it. The last declaration of the President on this, and I asked him explicitly, is 'we will let the legal process proceed.' Let those liable be held responsible," said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Monday, July 30.
In an interview with DZMM, Roque also said he was "saddened" by the apparent backtracking by Tulfo, citing an earlier declaration by lawyer Ferdinand Topacio that the siblings intended to return the P60 million.
"If they refuse to comply with their own declaration, that's okay. There is a process anyway and I heard the President say that the legal process must continue," Roque said.
Returning the P60 million is not up to the discretion of the Tulfos because on June 5, the Commission on Audit (COA) issued a notice of disallowance against the transaction between state-run People's Television Network (PTV) and Bitag Media Unlimited.
A notice of disallowance is an order to refund the payment. It is, however, subject to appeal.
Since the notice was issued to the DOT, its enforcement is up to Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV's planned plunder complaint against the Tulfos would be additional efforts to the investigation launched by the Office of the Ombudsman, added Roque.
"The matter is in fact within the cognizance already of the Ombudsman so that will be treated as a second complaint," he said.
Last May, Malacañang said it was expecting the Tulfos to return the P60 million, based on Topacio's declaration in a media interview.
But Ramon Tulfo, the eldest of the siblings, said in a news column that the lawyer was not speaking on behalf of the family when he mentioned the promise.
The P60 million was the payment for the controversial ad placements of the DOT on the Tulfo brothers' show, Kilos Pronto. The tourism secretary at the time, Wanda Teo, is a sister of the Tulfo brothers.
Teo resigned amid the controversy. The Commission on Audit flagged the ad placements as a case of conflict of interest and a possible violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. (READ: COA sees graft: How Ben Tulfo earned from P120-million PTV-DOT deal) – with a report from Lian Buan/Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.