MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered an investigation into the excessive travels of Celestina Ma Jude de la Serna, the interim president of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said it is President Duterte’s priority to clean the ranks of the PhilHealth, the agency tasked to provide insurance programs and affordable healthcare to Filipinos.
“Well, alam ko po iimbestigahan din po iyan ng Presidente ‘no. Dahil prayoridad po talaga ng Presidente na magbigay nung universal health care at talagang kung hindi po malilinis ang hanay ng PhilHealth, hindi po magkakatuparan itong universal health care,” Roque said in a briefing on Monday, May 7.
(Well, as far as I know it will also be investigated by the President. It is his priority to provide universal health care and if the ranks of PhilHealth would not be cleaned, it would not happen.)
“So ito lang po ang maipapangako ko po: Talagang bibigyan po ng importansiya paglilinis sa hanay ng PhilHealth,” he added. (This is what I can promise: Cleaning the ranks of PhilHealth will be given importance.)
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.
Resident auditors at PhilHealth have also asked De la Serna to explain her receipt of allowances and per diem, which would amount to almost a million pesos, including the travel expenses.
The controversy comes amid PhilHealth's net loss amounting to P8.92 billion, according to its 2017 unaudited financial statement posted online. Based on PhilHealth's own numbers, this is 3,446.5% higher than the restated 2016 net loss of P251.5 million.
Senate health committee chairman Joseph Victor Ejercito has called on Duterte to sack De la Serna and appoint a new chief, criticizing her "callousness."
De la Serna, for her part, appealed to Duterte to listen to her side first. She defended her hotel stays, saying PhilHealth does not have an apartment for its officials in Manila. Her accommodations, she said, are backed by travel authority.
Malacañang said "everyone will be heard" in investigating the matter.
De la Serna is the daughter of former Bohol governor and Tagbilaran City mayor Victor de la Serna, President Rodrigo Duterte's professor at the San Beda Law School, also now a member of the Consultative Committee on amending the 1987 Constitution.
Roque earlier called on the Ombudsman to probe erring officials, saying it is not the job of President Duterte to act on reports such as those made by the Commission on Audit.
Aside from the nearly P1 million allowances of De la Serna, PhilHealth employees also slammed the OIC for her supposed illegal termination of several workers. De la Serna also allegedly deducted agency fees from the collective negotiation agreement incentive of rank-and-file employees.
They also accused De la Serna of violating President Duterte’s order against “endo” or contractualization, when she shortened the one-year contracts of casual employees to just three months. – Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email firstname.lastname@example.org