The worries of Bello, Montano and Teo

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, ex-Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) Chairman Cesar Montano and ex-Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo are probably worried because the new Ombudsman Samuel Martires seems determined to prosecute cases even against officials identified with President Rodrigo Duterte.

It was during Bello’s watch as the Secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment when a Filipina domestic helper was murdered in Kuwait months ago. Her employers left her corpse in a freezer and fled. The corpse was discovered only about a year after the murder.

This incident revealed a patent lack of diligence on the part of Bello and his minions in Kuwait City who obviously did not bother to keep in touch with the Filipinos working there.

As a consequence, an angry President Rodrigo Duterte ordered an immediate ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait. Soon thereafter, Bello showed unusual interest in getting the ban lifted immediately that a suspicious Foreign Affairs Secretary Allan Peter Cayetano asked Bello, “Why the rush?”

Bello’s critics contend that Bello’s undue interest in getting the ban lifted is explained by his very close ties to a Filipino businesswoman who operates a local recruitment agency which deploys Filipino domestic workers to Kuwait. They contend that the businesswoman is also very close to the Kuwait ambassador to the Philippines and that she was seen whispering to Bello when the latter was in Congress to testify.

At about that time, Dominador Say, a labor undersecretary closely identified with Bello, got caught in the anti-graft radar of President Duterte. Say was summarily dismissed by the President.

Kuwait’s subsequent deal with Manila to the effect that Filipino workers in Kuwait will be treated humanely led to the lifting of the ban. Despite that deal, many Kuwaitis are not about to improve their wicked ways. Weeks ago, a famous female Kuwaiti makeup artist publicly announced her unwillingness to treat her Filipino domestic workers humanely. Her statement went viral on the social media. Indeed, expensive makeup does not equate to good moral character.

Another issue against Bello is that he allegedly refused to help a Filipino domestic helper recover her infant child stranded in Kuwait. It appears that the desperate mother fled Kuwait to escape her cruel employers and that she left her child in Kuwait because Bello promised to help her get back her baby.

One more issue is that Bello issued an administrative order which empowered him to issue and renew the licenses of recruitment agencies, a power which is vested by law in the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. Because of that order, Bello is said to have usurped legislative power, which is a criminal offense.

Despite the administrative cases currently pending against him in the Office of the Ombudsman, Bello announced last month his interest in getting appointed Ombudsman to succeed the then outgoing incumbent, Conchita Carpio-Morales. His announcement was met with strong public opposition, which was enough reason for the Judicial and Bar Council, the constitutional body which screens candidates for Ombudsman, to drop Bello from the list of nominees to be considered.

From the latest developments, therefore, it looks like Bello may be facing additional cases before the Office of the Ombudsman.

Montano’s woes arose from his extravagant travels abroad, all at government expense.
The Commission on Audit (CoA) recently confirmed that during his incumbency, Montano went abroad 14 times over 91 days in 2017 at the cost of P2.276 million and that Montano spent an additional P4.952 million for the foreign trips of three officials of the TPB, including Montano’s executive assistant and his private secretary.

In addition, the CoA revealed that Montano spent P26.622 million for travel expenses, which Montano understated and that he paid out P7 million in financial grants to organizations which have nothing to do with tourism. There is also an P11.2 million contract for a promotional event, a deal which Montano directly negotiated with a losing bidder.

There are indications that many of Montano’s projects are not in accord with regulations. His Buhay Carinderia program which cost P320 million ought to be investigated.
Incidentally, Montano once ran for the Senate under the then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. At the campaign rallies, Montano comported himself as if he was a sure winner on account of his being an actor. He lost miserably.

The erstwhile actor has already resigned his post in the TPB. He will need all of his time to think about his legal defense once he faces charges in the Office of the Ombudsman.

Teo’s woes emanated from the P60 million which the Department of Tourism (DoT), during Teo’s watch, authorized to be paid for DoT advertisements placed on a television program hosted by her brother, a block timer of the government-owned station PTV-4. According to the CoA, the expenditure is tainted with conflict of interest concerns.

A few days after news of the audit came out, President Duterte accepted Teo’s resignation as tourism secretary.

Amid the controversy, Teo’s lawyer announced that the P60 million will be returned to the government. That announcement proved to be an empty promise. As of this writing, the money has not been returned. In fact, Ben Tulfo, the host of the television program, announced last week that he has no plans of returning the money because it is covered by a contract.

The main concern here is the report of the CoA to the effect that public money was illegally spent by the DoT under Teo. That ought to be enough to attract the attention of the new Ombudsman.

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