MANILA - Commission on Higher Education Chairperson Patricia Licuanan on Thursday defended her foreign travels even as she admitted to delays in the disbursement of scholars' allowances.
"Accusations of a travel binge and being globetrotting are excessive," she told ANC's Headstart.
Licuanan said her trips abroad were "part of the job" and would have to be understood in the context of the "general global trend of internationalization, the fact that internationalization is part of the mandate of CHED," which she said is embodied in a CHED memorandum order.
"It is a policy and basically we see internationalization as a strategy for enhancing the quality of higher education in the Philippines and to preserve a reputation as a center for higher education in certain niche areas," she said.
Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta Partylist Rep. Jericho Nograles last week questioned whether Licuanan usurped the powers of the President by approving her own travel authority by posting copies of supposed documents showing Licuanan's "Authority to Travel Abroad" which she allegedly issued for herself.
In the Facebook post, he claimed Licuanan requested for 7 "official business" travels and a " personal travel." The supposed documents also showed that the official traveled business class.
However, Licuanan in a statement released earlier belied the lawmaker's claims and insisted that she sought the President's approval for all her trips, including personal ones.
She added that the photos of supposed documents Nograles had posted online appear to be "the internal Authority to Travel Abroad, which is routinely used to process the funds and is an attachment for securing Malacañang approval."
In the interview, Licuanan said her trips were "hardly excessive," having only left the country for official functions 8 times in 2017, and only 5 of these trips were paid for by the government. She added, she only traveled 5 times in 2016, 6 times in 2015, twice in 2014, and thrice in 2013.
"That’s hardly excessive and all of these things had to do with very specific commitments and it is because of these travels that we are able to have joint programs with institutions abroad, we’re able to send scholars from the Philippines to receive countries and receive also from other countries," she said.
Licuanan also explained that traveling business class has been allowed for heads of agencies for "long haul trips" and she had occasionally invoked her vertigo.
President Rodrigo Duterte has sacked several government officials for supposedly taking unnecessary junkets, among them former Dangerous Drugs Board chief Dionisio Santiago and Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor chief Terry Ridon.
Malacañang last week also released a memorandum outlining rules for foreign travels of officials and personnel under the executive branch.
ADMITS DELAYS IN SCHOLARS' ALLOWANCE DISTRIBUTION
Licuanan admitted that CHED is trying to address inefficiencies within their ranks with regard to delays in distributing allowances to scholar-teachers, but maintained that her travels abroad were not the cause of delay.
She said it is not true that some 9,000 teacher-scholars are yet to receive their allowances because the 2017 batch, composed of over 3,600 teachers, have received theirs.
Only the 4,096 teachers who received scholarships in 2016 as part of CHED's effort to prevent a massive lay-off of tertiary education teachers due to the K-to-12 program have "problems" in their allowances because of missing documents, said Licuanan.
Of this number, Licuanan said 2,051 have already cleared their deficiencies, while another 1,011 teacher-scholars will partially receive their allowances despite incomplete documents. This then only leaves about 933 scholars who have not had their allowances received.
"There are inefficiencies, we will have to admit and we’re really working on them," she said.