File photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to replace Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth's) interim president Celestina de la Serna after controversy about her excessive hotel and travel expenses erupted.
A document sent by Malacañang confirms that Duterte has appointed PhilHealth Board of Directors member Roy Ferrer to replace De la Serna.
Duterte signed Ferrer's appointment as "Acting President and Chief Executive Officer" of PhilHealth on June 1, according to the document.
JUST IN. Malacañang confirms embattled PhilHealth OIC Celestina de la Serna to be replaced by Roy Ferrer, member of PhilHealth board of directors. @rapplerdotcom pic.twitter.com/0mCH33Zpcg — Pia Ranada (@piaranada) June 4, 2018
It is not yet clear if De la Serna will continue being board member even as she has been stripped of the title of interim president and CEO.
Rappler first reported that De la Serna spent at least P627,000* in government funds for her accommodations, flights to and from her hometown in Taglibaran, Bohol, and terminal fees, according to documents and the Commission on Audit (COA).
Resident auditors at PhilHealth have also asked De la Serna to explain her receipt of per diem during virtual meetings and allowances, which amount to almost a million pesos, including travel expenses.
De la Serna, despite being assigned to the PhilHealth central office, has chosen to stay at pricey hotels near the PhilHealth central office in Pasig City, a practice deemed by COA to be excessively costly.
Senator JV Ejercito, chairman of the Senate committee on health, had called on Duterte to fire De la Serna.
The House of Representatives is also set to conduct a hearing to investigate the allegations about De la Serna's expenses.
Reacting to De la Serna's removal, Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin said, "Philhealth chief De la Serna should have not been appointed in the first place. She lacks the qualifications to head Philhealth except being close to the President through her father."
Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano said, "This shows the kind of appointment the president has. He appoints, he fires."
Alejano said government posts have now become means to pay back friends and supporters. "The more often he fires his appointees the more people he can pay his debt of gratitude," the lawmaker said. – Rappler.com
*Editor's Note: In a previous version of this story, the amount wrongly indicated was P627.3 million. This has been corrected to P627,000.
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.