PhilHealth's De la Serna: Rappler report on travel expenses 'not fake news'

CONFIDENT. PhilHealth interim president Celestina de la Serna says she is ready to face President Rodrigo Duterte to discuss the issue of her travel expenses.

CONFIDENT. PhilHealth interim president Celestina de la Serna says she is ready to face President Rodrigo Duterte to discuss the issue of her travel expenses.

Another case of fake news?

Reporters at a press conference on Tuesday, May 8 asked if the report Rappler released on Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) interim president Celestina Ma Jude de la Serna’s travel expenses – which were based on documents from the Commission on Audit (COA) – was false. (READ: PhilHealth OIC spends P627k for travels amid P9-B net loss in 2017)

De la Serna herself said it was not "fake news".

Sir, ano po ba yung lumabas na story? (What was the story that came out?) If it is the COA Observation Memorandum, it is documented so it's not fake news,” De la Serna said on Tuesday, May 8.

De La Serna was responding to questions asked by Rambo Lapay of dzXM and Jong Manlapaz of Radyo Inquirer.

She added that despite critical reports on her travel expenses and allowances, she was confident enough to face President Rodrigo Duterte to prove she did nothing wrong. 

May mukha akong ihaharap sa kanya na all I am doing is what he said we should do,” she said. (I can face him and say all I am doing is what he said we should do.)

DOCUMENTED. PhilHealth interim president Celestina de la Serna says Rappler's report on her travel expenses is based on documents from the Commission on Audit. Photo by Sofia Tomacruz/Rappler

DOCUMENTED. PhilHealth interim president Celestina de la Serna says Rappler's report on her travel expenses is based on documents from the Commission on Audit.

Photo by Sofia Tomacruz/Rappler

Lapay also asked De la Serna if she suspected anyone was behind Rappler’s report because the media outlet is “known to be critical of the President.”

To this she responded: “Hindi ko naman kilala ang Rappler. Hindi ko alam how they operate. (I don’t know Rappler. I don’t know how they operate.) How they got the issues or the news, I do not know. But again, it's their business. All I can say is my business right now because I am in PhilHealth so I have to face this.”

Based on a COA report, 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 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, along with other PhilHealth officials, held a press conference to address the reported excessive travels she incurred in just a year in office. She maintained that the expenses incurred were all “above board” and within the limits set by government regulations.

Read the full exchange below:

Lapay: Fake news ba ito ma'am?  

De la Serna: Alin yung fake news?  

Lapay: Yung mga lumalabas…sa tingin niyo, meron gumagawa ba talaga nito? Parang nabanggit niyo kanina na seryoso yung ginagawa niyo, meron nang sinagasaan, meron nang 20 years (na sinagasaan).. Within the organization, meron kayong nasagasaan kaya lumutang 'to? Kasi hindi naman lulutang 'to nang ganito kung wala silang (naasar sa inyo). Sa tingin niyo, kaya lumutang 'to meron kayong nasasagasaan within yung organization niyo?  

De la Serna: Sa palagay ko po, kaya I'm confident to face the President at may mukha akong ihaharap sa kanya na all I am doing is what he said we should do. And if this is the thing that I have to go through because we are doing what is right, then I just have to face you. I have to face the issue. So kung lumulutang man 'to dahil meron akong nasasagasaan, ganon ata talaga sa government. Kung walang ginagawang mabuti, or wala kang ginagawang tama…kasi puwede ko naman gawin iyon, sir. In fact, I bring it to the people and the President, would he want or would the people want me to just pack up and just get my pay and go home? Tahimik yung buhay ko. Pero gagawa ako ng changes, ito ang magiging buhay ko. Ito ang nangyayari ngayon.  

Lapay: Lastly, Rappler ang nagpausok nito, nagpapalutang nito, ano sa tingin niyo – meron bang nasa likod nito? At kung meron man, sino ang nasa tingin niyo ang... We understand Rappler ay kilalang kritiko ng Pangulo so hindi naman na… malikot lang yung isip ko ma'am, eh.. Ano sa tingin niyo, meron bang tunay 'to? Fake news ba 'to o ano sa tingin niyo?  

De la Serna: Sir, actually, hindi ko naman kilala ang Rappler. Hindi ko alam how they operate. How they got the issues or the news, I do not know. But again, it's their business. All I can say is my business right now because I am in PhilHealth so I have to face this. 

*Israel Pargas, PhilHealth Spokesperson and Officer-in-Charge of Health finance policy sector instructs reporters to introduce themselves before asking questions*  

Manlapaz: Fake news po ba yung nilabas na story?  

De la Serna: Sir, ano po ba yung lumabas na story? If it is the COA Observation Memorandum, it is documented so it's not fake news.  

Manlapaz: 'Yun po sa Rappler it's a fake news or [not]?  

De la Serna: Again, the COA Audit Observation Memorandum – it's not fake. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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