TOURISM Secretary Wanda Teo belies accusations on her foreign trips with an alleged make-up artist and utility workers.

In a press conference Friday, February 16, at the Marco Polo Hotel Davao, Teo clarified that she brought with her foreign trips an executive assistant, not a make-up artist contrary to what national newspapers reported.

"Hindi po siya (Angelito Ucol) makeup artist. I was just with my executive assistant, other secretaries bring with them members of their family, ako wala po, ang kasama ko po ay someone from the office, Nagtratrabaho po siya," she said.

The tourism secretary also defended her decision to bring utility workers to a Star Cruises trip, saying it was free.

"Star Cruises gave us 10 cabins for free, I did not give these to those who are in upper positions, I gave them to those who are working with the DOT for almost 30 years but still was not able to travel. The government did not spend a single cent for it, it was for free," Teo added.

She also denied reports that she went to Dubai, Sydney, and Russia as tourism secretary.

"There was this report that I went to Dubai, Sydney, I did not go at these places as secretary (yet), I've been there when I was still in the private sector. I went to Russia but with the President," she said.

Her foreign trips, she said, are part of attending international travel marts and ministerial meetings.

"Alam po ninyo, kung tutuusin lang, I don't want to travel anymore because I've been to these places many times (before) but because it is our mandate. I have to go out, I have to meet with tour operators, investors, I have to know why our tourism arrival is not at par with other Asian countries. It is in the mandate of DOT," Teo emphasized.

Meanwhile, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said earlier that despite the nature of her job, Teo is not exempted from President Duterte's order to government officials under the Executive Branch to go on a starvation diet from foreign travels.

Teo, in response, said she will now limit the countries where she'll be visiting.

"Yes, we have this mandate to promote the Philippines but we are not exempted to the President's directive, ngayon pinipili na lang natin kung saan lang talaga ang dapat puntahan," she said.

However, Teo also explained that the President has clarified in one of their recent cabinet secretary meetings that secretaries are entitled to go out for as long as it is within their mandate.

Teo enumerated that three of the primary reasons why Philippines' tourist arrivals lags behind other Asian countries because of poor connectivity, geographical setup, and marketing promotions budget.