Former Tourism Chief: ₱2.5 million in Duty Free goods were for 'swapping,' not shopping

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 15) — The Tourism Department took about P2.5 million-worth of luxury items in place of cash remittances, former Secretary Wanda Tulfo Teo said Wednesday.

"Swapping, napagkamalang shopping," Teo told CNN Philippines' The Source.

Teo is in hot water over allegedly ordering the withdrawal of branded bags, canned goods, luxury brand cosmetics, appliances, kitchenware, toiletries from the Duty Free Philippines Corporation.

She defended herself, arguing the withdrawal of the items were part of a practice where the corporation provided goods instead of cash. Duty Free is required to remit 50 percent of its annual net profit to the Tourism Department.

Teo said the department's corporate accounts used the goods instead of money.

"Normally yung mga corporate accounts namin, they ask solicitations," Teo added. "Like kung may golf tournament (they ask for) prizes: TV, refrigerator, candies, canned goods. Like sa Marawi siege — yung fallen soldiers, binigyan namin sila ng canned goods."

[Translation: Swapping was mistaken for shopping. Normally our corporate accounts ask for solicitations. Like if there's a golf tournament, (they ask for) prizes: TV, refrigerator, candies, canned goods. Like during the Marawi siege — we gave fallen soldiers canned goods.]

The Commission on Audit flagged the transaction in a report released last June. It also noted a ₱1.6 million consultancy fee and cost of shipment of DOT donations worth ₱22,893.

The resigned secretary also denied she received any branded bags. She even quipped that the bags in Duty Free were "not [her] type."

"Bakit naman ako bibili ng bags [Why would I buy bags]?" said Teo. "I can always buy bags in Europe... Meron pang [There's even a] travel tax refund."

She also claimed Duty Free did not sell any Rolex watches, and the appliances would not fit in her "fully furnished" condominium unit.

"That's why it really hurts me, [na] malaman about Duty Free. Talagang galit na galit ako," Teo added. "They made up stories na hindi totoo."

[Translation: That's why it really hurts me, to find out about Duty Free. It really makes me angry. They made up false stories.]

Duty Free, which sells tax-free luxury items, is a government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCC) under the Tourism Department.

The allegedly anomalous purchases at Duty Free are not the only concerns being hurled at Teo. She and her brothers Ben and Erwin Tulfo are also accused of an anomalous P60 million  tourism advertisement deal that benefited her brothers' PTV-4 show Kilos Pronto.

When asked why she was being linked to these issues, Teo speculated that it was "because of the way I dress."

"Ever since I was not yet the Secretary of Tourism, ganito na ako [I was already like this]," she said. "Pagdating sa babae, medyo nakatutok sila."

[Translation: When it comes to women, people scrutinize.]

Teo, who is fresh out of a Senate hearing on the ₱60 million advertisement deal, may face graft charges.

CNN Philippines' Senior Digital Producer Lara Tan contributed to this story.