Tourism chief Wanda Teo resigns

MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo has resigned from her post,  Malacañang confirmed on Tuesday, May 8.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a news briefing that Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea confirmed that the latter received Teo's letter of resignation on Monday, May 7, prior to the Cabinet meeting.

Roque later announced that President Rodrigo Duterte accepted Teo's resignation. Duterte had a long private conversation with Teo late Monday night, after the Cabinet meeting,  in the face of calls for her resignation.

Teo's lawyer and spokesman, Ferdinand Topacio, said in a news briefing that Teo handed her resignation letter to Medialdea on Monday afternooon, May 7.  

"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," Topacio said in a statement.

Topacio added, "We wish to clarify that there was NO demand made on the part of the President for Secretary Teo to resign, and that the decision to do so was purely of her own volition."  

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," her lawyer said. 

The resignation comes after the Commission on Audit (COA) questioned the P60 million ($1.15 million) paid by the Department of Tourism (DOT) for ad placements on the show of Teo's brothers, Ben and Erwin Tulfo.

Malacañang said any investigation into the matter is now with the Office of the Ombudsman. 

"It has to be investigated by the Ombudsman for probable cause....We expect the speedy and transparent investigation of the Ombudsman," Roque said during the briefing.

On Monday, Topacio said the Tulfo brothers will return the P60 million to the government. Akbayan Spokesperson Gio Tingson said the plan to return the money is an admission of guilt.

Accountability

In a statement, Akbayan welcomed the resignation of Teo but said this should not shield her from legal action.

"The resignation of DOT Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo is a victory of the people's fight against corruption, but this should not shield her from accountability. Hindi siya dapat palusutin (She should not be allowed to get away with it)," the party-list said.

Akbayan dared Duterte to prove his commitment to fight corruption by initiating the filing of charges against the tourism secretary and her brothers through the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC).

"The simple firing or resignation of corrupt officials will not put a stop to corruption in the government if this is not followed by swift prosecution and conviction. If President Duterte is true to his anti-corruption rhetoric, we dare him to lead the charge in filing the appropriate cases against the Tulfos through the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC). Otherwise, this is merely an attempt to appease the public's outrage," it said.

Akbayan also reminded public officials "that the government is no place for family businesses or personal interests."

"Kailangan managot din ang mga Tulfo brothers na sangkot sa scandal. They should hand in the P60 million immediately. PTV4 should also cancel their program. Ang hinihingi ngayon ng taumbayan ay pananagutan, hindi paghuhugas-kamay," it added.

(The Tulfo brothers who are involved in the scandal should also be held accountable. They should hand in the P60 million immediately. PTV4 should also cancel their program. The people's clamor is for accountability, not washing of hands.)

Senator Nancy Binay, chair of the Senate tourism committee, lauded Teo's decision to resign "and to spare the President from undue pressure.

"The President has too many things on his plate to be dragged into this issue, most especially solving the diplomatic gap between our country and Kuwait, where 260,000 of our countrymen depend for their livelihood," Binay said in a statement.

Teo is no stranger to controversy. Six months into her stint as tourism chief, she became the subject of a blind item in a major daily that alleged she asked for two pairs of designer shoes and 150 tickets for a musical from a big shopping mall, which Teo denied.

In February, she was criticized for sending her department's drivers and clerks to foreign trips, even after Malacañang issued stricter guidelines on overseas travels for government officials and employees.

Teo is the second Cabinet official to resign in 4 weeks, after Vitaliano Aguirre II who quit as justice chief in early April.  – With a report from Camille Elemia/Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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