Tulfos: We will not return P60M to government

MANILA, Philippines – Insisting on the "legality" of the contract, the Tulfo brothers said they are not returning the P60-million payment they received from the questionable advertisement deal between the Department of Tourism (DOT) and state-run People's Television Network Incorporated (PTV).

This is contrary to the earlier statement by Ferdinand Topacio, former tourism secretary Wanda Tulfo Teo's former counsel, that they would be giving back the amount to the government.

Despite her ex-lawyer's announcement, Teo was now hands-off on the issue and said the ultimate decision would depend on PTV and her brothers.

During the Senate probe into the controversy on Tuesday, August 14, Senator Risa Hontiveros asked Teo whether or not her brothers would return the P60 million. 

Teo said she had always been against Topacio's suggestion of returning the money, as the contract was already fulfilled. Despite this, she said she still brought it up with her brothers and added Ben was initially open to it.

"It was suggested by Atty Topacio – he was my lawyer before – if the money could be returned. At the time, there was so much going on already, I asked my brother if it's possible, if they could return the money. At the end of the day, it's up to PTV4 and my brother if they would return the money, because our payment was with PTV4," Teo said in a mix of English and Filipino. 

She added: "Actually, my first decision was that it should not be returned. When Atty Topacio told me, I said it would be difficult because the money was used already. They already paid, and a lot was already done. But he said you have to do the ultimate sacrifice, so I told my brother and then he said, later on, my younger brother kind of agreed. At the end of the day, whether they return it or not is no longer my decision to make."

Hontiveros expressed "disappointment" over Teo's response, citing Topacio's earlier public statement.

Both Teo and Ben insisted on their innocence and said they do not know where to get the money as they already paid for the production and talents, among others.

Ben added that Topacio was representing his elder sister Teo and had no right to speak for him.

"Because nagawa na po, natapos na po yung kontrata. Saan po kukunin yung pera (Because it's already done, the contract was already finished. Where will we get the money)?" Teo said.

"That will distinguish the legality of my contract with PTV. Why would I be returning the money [when] we have faithfully delivered? By way of contract, we aired all the documents needed, kasama 'yung (including the) tape on air, we fulfilled. So now, returning the money is tantamount to saying we did something illegal," Ben said.

"Wala ho sa isip ko magsasauli kasi wala akong ginawang ilegal. Papanindigan po namin ang kontrata, legal po ito. Wala po kaming ginawang illegal," he added. 

(It did not cross my mind to return the money because I did not do anything illegal. We will stand by the contract, this is legal. We did not do anything illegal.)

Erwin, for his part, denied being an officer of Bitag Media, saying he is only a talent. 

Asked if the DOT would run after the P60 million, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat only said that the case is already pending with the Ombudsman.

New reason: Family feud?

During the hearing, Hontiveros also confronted Teo, who again said that she had no idea that her brothers are behind Kilos Pronto.

The Commission on Audit (COA) report said, however, that the contract signed by DOT "specifically required" PTV to air ads on Kilos Pronto. (FACT CHECK: Wanda Teo claims no hand in P60M ads, but DOT contract specified Bitag)

Hontiveros pointed out that the payment was given in 3 tranches for 7 months.

"Ibig sabihin sa loob ng 3 tranches, 'di po kayo nag-usap lahat (You mean within those 3 tranches, you never talked to each other)?" she asked, referring to the Tulfo siblings. 

Teo said she and her brothers have their own separate lives.

"Hindi po, kanya kanya po kaming buhay. (No, we lead our own separate lives.) I don't even have time to talk to them. The checks were all paid to PTV4. PTV4 na po bahala kung saan magbabayad (It was up to PTV4 to pay)," she explained.

Hontiveros refused to buy this, and said it is not believable that the siblings never discussed the issue.

"Medyo mahirap talaga para sa mga mapagbantay sa proper at improper na pagne-negosyo sa pagitan ng gobyerno at private sector. Medyo nakaka-stretch ng belief na 'di po [kayo] nakapag-usap," the senator said.

(It's a little difficult [to believe] for those who are vigilant when it comes to proper and improper business dealings between the government and private sector. It's a bit of a stretch to believe you were not able to talk to each other.)

Ben echoed his sister's claim and said the siblings are not in good terms.

"Kami hong magkakapatid... hindi close [for your information], kalat naman ho ito sa media (For your information, we are not close to each other as siblings, this is a known fact to media)," he said.

COA had previously questioned the P60 million paid by the DOT for ad placements on Kilos Pronto, the show co-hosted by the Tulfo brothers, citing the lack of supporting documents.

Ben is also the chief executive officer of PTV blocktimer Bitag Media Unlimited, Incorporated which runs the show. – Rappler.com

Read other stories from the hearing:

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a multimedia reporter focusing on media, technology, and disinformation.