CHED chair Licuanan disputes lawmaker's allegations over trips abroad

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Regine Cabato, CNN Philippines

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 6) — Commission on Higher Education (CHED) chairperson Patricia Licuanan said a congressman was mistaken when he accused her of bypassing protocol regarding her travels.

On Friday, PBA Party-List Rep. Jericho "Koko" Nograles posted on Facebook photos of Licuanan's supposed permits to travel abroad. The supposed documents showed Licuanan approved her own travels.

"Did CHED Chairperson Licuanan usurp the power of President Rody Duterte by approving her own travel authority contrary to [Executive Order] 459?" Nograles wrote in his post.

The E.O. requires members of the Cabinet and officials of equivalent rank to seek approval from the Office of the President before traveling abroad.

Nograles said the documents could be a basis for not only removal or suspension, but a possible case of "grave misconduct and usurpation of authority" before the Office of the Ombudsman.

"Chair Licuanan's term will end this year. If the Ombudsman will file a case then it will run even after her retirement," Nograles said in a statement.

Licuanan, however, said the alleged documents were only internal references attached to requests sent to Malacañang.

"I get a travel authority from the Office of the President for all my travel including personal trips... I issue travel authorities for all CHED officials but not for myself," said Licuanan in a statement Saturday.

The document, tagged "Authority to Travel Abroad," is used to process the funds necessary for the trip.

Her office also furnished the media with copies of permits to travel from Malacanang, signed by Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

"I hope Rep. Nograles has been misquoted but if not he should definitely check his facts before he makes false accusations," she added in a text message to CNN Philippines.

She added the paperwork was "well documented" and she did not know where Nograles got his information.

The photos Nograles posted show supposed permits for travel to Bangkok, Thailand; Paris, France; Bonn, Germany; Halifax, Canada; Taipei, Taiwan; Singapore; and the United States between March to November 2017.

Save for one trip to Singapore for personal travel, all other trips were marked "for official business" — mostly for conferences and events on education.

Nograles also accused her of traveling expensively.

However, CHED International Affairs Staff Director Atty. Lily Frieda Milla said Licuanan has vertigo and clarified she's allowed to fly via business class "for long-haul flights," as stated which is allowed under the travel guidelines stated in the Office of the President Memorandum Circular No. 7 (2010). and because of her vertigo."

The memorandum provides that airfares for government officials shall be "limited to restricted economy class" except for flights beyond four hours.

Licuanan deals with a difficult last leg of her fixed term, which ends this year. Apart from the reported power struggle within the commission, she was barred by the President from attending Cabinet meetings in December 2016.