Berna Romulo Puyat brings back the Yellows
Berna brings back the Yellows
The Yellows who have lorded it over the alleged anomalous billion-peso government tourism program during the administration of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd are back in harness. And their Trojan horse is none other than alleged Duterte favorite and new tourism secretary, Bernadette Romulo Puyat.
The chief Aquino-era tourism guru who is reportedly the mastermind of Puyat’s appointment is long-time advertising executive Ramon Jimenez, Jr. Ad man Jimenez not only avoided the heat for his involvement in awarding a P1.2-billion advertising blitz during the Noynoy years to drumbeat the “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign, he was also instrumental in bringing down President Rodrigo Duterte’s original tourism secretary, the clueless Wanda Tulfo Teo.
This is by no means a defense of Tulfo and her brothers, who are embroiled in a controversy that is mostly of their own making. In fact, in a separate, succeeding column, I shall delve into the People’s Television advertising contract that not only brought down Teo, but also smeared her brothers, broadcasters Ben and Erwin Tulfo.
On April 26 of this year, the National Bureau of Investigation filed with the Office of the Ombudsman a graft complaint against Jimenez, some of his top officials and two advertising executives regarding alleged anomalies in the “It’s More Fun” campaign. The NBI said Jimenez and some of his top officials led by Undersecretary Benito Bengzon awarded to advertising outfit Dentsu Philippines Inc. the “It’s More Fun” contract that cost the government P1.2 billion in three years.
The NBI found “badges of fraud” in Jimenez’s awarding of the contract to Dentsu. The investigating agency said Dentsu was given the deal despite a lack of approval from the directors of TPB and opposition from the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC).
It is important to point out that both Bengzon and Arnold Gonzales were known as trusted subordinates of Jimenez during the Noynoy years. Bengzon, by the way, is the only official from Teo’s time who was retained by Romulo, while Gonzales, another Aquino appointee, was promoted by Puyat to the post of OIC after the resignation of Montano.
Less than a month after the NBI brought charges against Jimenez and his subordinates, the story of the P60 million advertising contract between the DoT and government television PTV4 allegedly favoring Ben Tulfo’s “Kilos Pronto” of Bitag Media Unlimited broke. This was quickly followed by the alleged anomalous “Buhay Carinderia” contract that was awarded by Montano to a private company, even if no anomalies have been unearthed so far in that deal.
Both Teo and Montano were believed by Jimenez and his gang, according to my sources, of initiating the NBI’s investigation into the “It’s More Fun” campaign. It was time, they decided, to get rid of both Duterte appointees and to find someone “friendlier” to Aquino’s tourism officials who would even continue their old projects.
The key to smearing both Teo and Montano was the Commission on Audit, whose chairman, Michael Aguinaldo, was an Aquino appointee who was once an associate in the law firm of a very powerful official in the current Duterte administration. And the same palace official, according to my sources, decided that Puyat was to replace Teo and be given free rein to choose an equally friendly subordinate to take over Montano’s post.
Teo and Montano never had a chance. The same palace official warned both Duterte appointees that the President would not look kindly on them fighting the appointment of Puyat, even if she was clearly being used by Jimenez to divert attention away from the Dentsu contract and the “It’s More Fun” campaign.
It was Aguinaldo who released the damning (if largely unsubstantiated) allegations against both Teo and Montano. The CoA notices were instrumental in forcing the removal of the two, especially since they had been told that it would do them no good to oppose Puyat, because of her alleged long-time special relationship with the President.
There is apparently some truth to the palace official’s warning. Puyat was an undersecretary in the Department of Agriculture during Noynoy’s administration and the only official retained by the now incumbent Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol upon Duterte’s assumption of the presidency; her father, Alberto, was not only Noynoy’s first foreign affairs secretary but also the budget secretary in the Cory Aquino government.
Here’s the knock on Berna: It is telling that Puyat, who has cultivated the image of being a crusader against graft and corruption, has also called for the continuation of the “It’s More Fun” campaign — the same campaign that got Jimenez into trouble in the first place — and other alleged anomalous projects during Jimenez’s time.
Another high-profile project from Jimenez’s term as tourism chief that is making a comeback under Puyat is the Madrid Fusion Manila (MFM), which she emphatically called “my baby” in a recent interview. The three-year-old project, which claims to promote Philippine cuisine and tourism, has mostly been showcasing Spanish culture and culinary experts, with the backing of the sister-chef of another top Aquino official.
Teo’s and Montano’s involvement in MFM was to postpone the five-year project after they said they uncovered alleged anomalies committed by organizers and previous DoT and TPB officials during Jimenez’s time. These include the non-submission of terminal liquidation reports for part of the P360 million spent per year for 2015 and 2016 by the government to stage the three-day event.
According to the two former Duterte officials, no biddings were conducted for MFM, as well as the World Street Food Congress and the MTV Music Evolution, another Jimenez-backed project, which cost Filipino taxpayers $3.8 million for a one-night music concert event. Yes, that last project was a one-night concert, which not a lot of Filipinos were even aware of.
Meanwhile, Puyat has also convinced CoA’s Aguinaldo to conduct an unusual “pre-audit” of all contracts entered into by Teo, even if CoA usually enters the picture only in “post-audits” of consummated deals. Aguinaldo was reportedly “directed” by Puyat, as well, to look into deals entered into during Teo’s time, but only during her time, completely ignoring the NBI case against Jimenez.
(To be continued tomorrow)
Berna brings back the Yellows (2)By JOJO ROBLES on August 23, 2018 Opinion on Page One
AS if you needed any more proof that the Department of Tourism under Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat has been undergoing massive “Yellowfication,” I have been informed that a former key operative of the famous propaganda team of former President Noynoy Aquino has been recycled into the tourism agency. Former journalist Rey Marfil, who held the position of communications undersecretary in the Aquino years, has been appointed to the same position in Puyat’s DoT.
As tourism undersecretary, Marfil will also handle spokesman duties for Puyat. Perhaps Puyat decided that she needed the media-handling talents of Marfil because the spectacle of her crying as she defends her actions in media interviews is getting to be old hat.
Of Marfil, the Politiko website reported in January 2015 that no less than Aquino himself was all praises for the undersecretary. The “efficient and dependable” Marfil “is our chief coordinator with media,” said Aquino, who also vowed to support Marfil if the latter decides to enter politics.
Marfil was appointed assistant secretary for media relations by Aquino, who was so pleased with his work that he promoted him to undersecretary in the Presidential Communications Operations Office in 2015. Marfil was the top media “operator” of the so-called three-headed hydra, as the trio of Cabinet-level secretaries all in charge of the propaganda operations of the Aquino administration was called; the team was made up of Edwin Lacierda, Herminio “Sonny” Coloma and — before he was dismissed — Ramon “Ricky” Carandang.
Other Aquino-era officials brought in by Puyat to the department since her appointment, apart from
Undersecretary Benito “Bong” Bengzon (who reportedly runs day-to-day operations at DoT) include:
Undersecretary for Special Concerns Art Boncato Jr. (a former assistant secretary of Aquino’s tourism honcho Ramon Jimenez Jr., replacing Jose Gabriel “Pompee” la Viña), Assistant Secretary Rica Bueno, Assistant Secretary Verna Buensuceso, Assistant Secretary Roberto Alabado and Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority Chief Operating Officer Guiller Asido.
Regarding Bengzon, Puyat’s go-to guy at the department, his ties go a little deeper than the usual Yellow/Aquino appointee who has found a way back into government service. Bengzon’s father and namesake, Benito Bengzon Sr., is known to be a close friend and associate of Puyat’s father, former senator Alberto Romulo since the latter’s days in the defunct Batasang Pambansa.
Romulo, who was Cory Aquino’s budget secretary, had earlier worked for the appointment of the elder Bengzon as undersecretary of agriculture, the same position that Puyat held under Noynoy Aquino. Upon the appointment of Puyat as tourism secretary, Bong Bengzon’s was almost like a foregone conclusion, given the ties between the two families.
(If Bengzon’s family name sounds familiar, it’s because his father is a cousin of yet another prominent Yellow, Dr. Alran Bengzon. Dr. Bengzon, a staunch supporter of Cory, was rewarded with the position of health secretary during the first Aquino administration.)
There is legally no impediment to Bengzon’s appointment by Puyat, of course, if it were just a case of two Yellow families helping each other find jobs in government. But, as I’ve already reported, the new undersecretary is a co-accused in the case the National Bureau of Investigation case filed before the Office of the Ombudsman implicating Jimenez, Bengzon and two executives of advertising company Dentsu Philippines Inc. in connection with alleged anomalies in the implementation of the P1.2-billion “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign.
Finally, what’s a Yellow operation without the support of web-only media organization Rappler? The outfit of Maria Ressa went to town with the allegations, contained in mere notices from the Commission on Audit, against Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo Teo and Tourism Promotions Board head Cesar Montano — which I already discussed in yesterday’s column.
Perhaps this was because, according to documents secured by broadcaster Erwin Tulfo, of a P100,000-a-day contract entered into between Rappler and Jimenez’s DoT in late 2014, in which the controversial news organization committed to submit four “intelligence reports” for three cities for a total of almost P10 million.
Compare the “red flags” found by CoA (and reported extensively by Rappler) against Teo and Montano with the charges lodged by the NBI before the Ombudsman against Jimenez and company and you get the idea. The first is made up of mere “notices” that have gotten the audit agency’s attention, which officials of the concerned government entity can simply explain away and “cure” with remedial measures. But the NBI complaint against Jimenez and the others is an actual corruption case based on “badges of fraud” found after an honest-to-goodness investigation.
Rappler has insisted that the deal, signed by Jimenez himself and Carla Yap-Sy Su, Rappler’s sales and marketing director, was a legitimate advertising contract that was valid and legal. Tulfo asked why CoA and its chairman, Aquino appointee Michael Aguinaldo, did not raise a peep about the Rappler-DoT deal, even as it aggressively pursued the charges against his sister Teo regarding the placement of P60 million in advertising spots in the program “Kilos Pronto” aired over government station PTV4.
In defending the deal, Rappler declared that “commercial transactions between government agencies are not unique.” However, it failed to explain exactly why a media company was contracted to come up with intelligence reports under a consultancy agreement that paid Rappler more than P3 million a month for three months, or a total of P9.575 million.
August 23, 2018
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