MANILA (UPDATE) - Tourism Chief Bernadette Romulo-Puyat on Thursday said she ordered the suspension of the "Buhay Carinderia" project, one of the government's food tourism programs.
In a press briefing, Romulo-Puyat said the suspension comes in light of an assessment by the Commission on Audit on the project.
"I will wait for COA to reply but until then I will not proceed with the Buhay Carinderia," she told reporters.
Romulo-Puyat said she has spoken with Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) chief Cesar Montano over his reported payment of P80 million in full for the said project even if the event has yet to be completed.
Montano, according to Puyat, explained that the project passed the TPB board and was approved by the agency's lawyers.
Romulo-Puyat added that Montano also noted that unlike other government agencies where biddings are a must, sponsorships have become a practice in the TPB.
"Lahat naman daw ito dinaan niya sa board ng TPB. Sinabi naman daw lahat above board," she said.
(He passed all of these to the board of the TPB and it was said that all of thise is above board.)
"I think he acted in good faith," she added.
The new tourism chief said she informed Montano that it would be best for COA as an independent agency to assess the project first.
Puyat said she also asked COA to review other projects as well and asked Montano for an update on all projects of the TPB.
"To be fair to him (Montano), meron siyang letter na ibinigay sa akin dated May 15 na he was willing naman to review all the programs with the DOT," she said.
(He gave me a letter dated May 15 which states that he is willing to review all the programs with the DOT.)
Asked on how the government plans to address the payment of P80 million in full, Puyat said she leaves it up to COA.
"I am not saying na mali siya, ang sinasabi ko lang mas komportable ako since I am now the chair, gusto ko lahat may bidding," she said.
(I am not saying that he is wrong. What I am saying is since I am now the chair, I am more comfortable that there is a bidding for everything.)
MONTANO STEPPING DOWN?
Asked whether Montano should step down, Romulo-Puyat said she thinks there is no need since a new chief would be nominated by June.
"It's actually whether he resigns or not, alam naman niyang (he knows that he is) hold-over [capacity] na lang siya," she said.
Romulo-Puyat added that she has also asked Montano about allegations that he attended an official speaking engagement in the United States, but told the audience that he would have to leave earlier to catch a Broadway show.
"Medyo nakita niya na medyo nabo-bore na yung audience so he cut his speech short kasi nabo-bore na yung audience pero to be fair matagal na siyang andun," Puyat said of Montano's explanation.
(He saw that the audience was getting bored so he cut his speech short but to be fair, he has been there for quite some time already.)
Montano was sworn in as chief operating officer of the TPB in December 2016 during the term of former tourism chief Wanda Teo.