Allegations of excessive travel expenses 'not true' – PhilHealth's De la Serna
MANILA, Philippines – Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) interim president Celestina Ma Jude de la Serna on Tuesday, May 8 said allegations that her travel expenses were excessive are "not true" and that these expenses were all legal.
De la Serna maintained that the money spent on her travels between Manila and Tagbilaran City were "above board" and within the limits set by existing government regulations.
"These accommodations are not expensive hotels which I could have asserted as part of the privilege attached to the position. I have settled for modest accommodations in keeping with the President's call for austerity and prudence," De la Serna said in a press conference on Tuesday.
Rappler first reported that De la Serna incurred at least P627,000 worth of trips to and from Bohol, as well as hotel stays, in just a year in office. (READ: PhilHealth OIC spends P627k for travels amid P9-B net loss in 2017)
Resident auditors at PhilHealth have also asked De la Serna to explain her receipt of allowances and per diem, which would amount to almost P1 million, including the travel expenses.
De la Serna, however, said that these expenses were "purely official" and "truly necessary" in the performance of her duties.
On the issue of the P152,000 per diem received from board and committee meetings done via tele/video conferencing, De la Serna said documentation for these were incomplete because of last minute requests to join.
Commission on Audit (COA) earlier flagged the virtual meetings, noting that De la Serna attended these while she was in the hospital on sick leave.
It also noted there was no Notice of Meeting and agenda attached for the regular board meetings on August 29 and September 14. This was also the case for committee hearings.
In response, De la Serna said the needed "notice to join meetings" were sent in order for her to participate in meetings as a board member representing overseas Filipino workers.
She also said that PhilHealth's corporate secretary had certified her attendance in the meetings being questioned.
The controversy comes amid PhilHealth's net loss amounting to P8.92 billion, which has been adjusted to about P4 billion, according to PhilHealth chief finance executive Gregorio Rulloda.
The adjustment, based on COA Audit Observation Memorandum Number 18-005 (17) National Capital Region covers only operations in NCR and are not yet final.
President Duterte on Monday, May 7 ordered an investigation into the excessive travels of De la Serna, as it was his priority to clean the ranks of PhilHealth.
"So ito lang po ang maipapangako ko po: Talagang bibigyan po ng importansiya paglilinis sa hanay ng PhilHealth (This is what I can promise: Cleaning the ranks of PhilHealth will be given importance)," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press briefing.
De la Serna said that she was only following the orders of the President and is now waiting to be given the chance to meet with him on the matter. (READ: PhilHealth's Dela Serna welcomes probe, but begs Duterte to hear her out) – Rappler.com