Benjie Oliveros | Impunity in Profligacy

By the way Arroyo and her officials spent money left and right in paying for expensive meals and the plane fares and hotel accommodations of the whole entourage during its recent US trip, it seems as if they treat the nation’s coffers as their own expense account.


MANILA — Malacañang dismissed the reported $20,000 dinner of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s entourage at Le Cirque, an expensive restaurant in Manhattan, as a “simple dinner” purportedly paid for by Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez. However, Malacañang never contested the amount paid; and no matter how you look at it or by whatever standard it is measured, a $20,000 bill for one meal is, well, simply and scandalously lavish. Knowing that the President and her entourage supposedly feasted on caviar and champagne while the Filipino people go hungry makes it more appalling.

If Romualdez did indeed pay for the meal, where did he get the money to pay for it? Surely, a person with declared assets amounting to P477 million in 2007 and 2008, as per his Statement of Assets and Liabilities in 2007 and 2008, which was published by, would still think twice before paying for a P1 million food bill for one night.

The issue has not yet died down when another evidence of the Arroyo government’s profligacy surfaced, this time reported by The Washington Post. Arroyo’s entourage, the Washington Post reported, was seen feasting on lobsters, steaks, and fine wine at Bobby Van’s Steakhouse days earlier, after the meeting with US President Barack Obama on July 30. The bill? $15,000, or more than P720,000.

The second time around, the excuse issued by Malacañang is more flimsy and disgusting. Deputy presidential spokesperson Anthony Golez said the president was merely invited and that restaurants in the US look the same and government officials would have no way of knowing that it was expensive. However, if the President’s entourage had no way of knowing that the restaurants they ate in were expensive, how come Bobby Van’s restaurant employees said someone from Arroyo’s entourage even called to order in advance? Golez even added that by questioning the Arroyo entourage’s restaurant bills, government critics make it appear that the President is not worthy of eating in an expensive restaurant. If this justification by Malacañang is not being dense and disgusting, then it is hard to imagine what is.

The way the Arroyo government splurged on two meals, worth almost P2 million, one would think that the Philippines is a rich country, that it is not in crisis, and that its citizens never go hungry. But the Philippines is a poor and backward country. As of May, the country’s outstanding debt has reached P4.22 trillion, 7.5 percent higher than last year. The Arroyo government is even preparing to issue $1 billion in Samurai bonds or yen-denominated securities this year.

Worse, last Aug. 4 the Social Weather Station (SWS) came out with the results of its June 19 to 22 survey. The results revealed that 50 percent of households interviewed, representing 9.3 million families, consider themselves as poor. This is three points higher than the results in February. Another 27 percent consider themselves as bordering on being poor.

The situation is even worse as the SWS survey also revealed that the median poverty threshold, which was identified by the respondents, hardly increased. In Metro Manila, for example, the poverty threshold identified by the respondents amounted to P10,000. This is the same amount identified in the year 2000 even as the consumer price index increased by 57 percent since. With this, it is clear that the people are trying to cope by lowering their standards and tightening their belts. This also means that the poverty situation is actually worse than reported if the median poverty threshold is adjusted corresponding to the increase in the consumer price index.

The SWS survey also revealed that the number of those who experienced involuntary hunger increased to 20.3 percent in June from 15.5 percent the previous quarter. This is equivalent to around 3.7 million families. Hunger, the SWS press release added, has been in double digits since June 2004. Moderate hunger — referring to those who experienced it once or a few times — rose to 16 percent or 2.9 million families in June from 11.1 percent or 2 million families in February. Those who said they experienced hunger often or always in the last three months remained stable at 4.3 percent or an estimated 790,000 families, according to the SWS survey. It is a point above the 10-year average Severe Hunger rate of 3.4 percent.

By the way the Arroyo government spent money left and right in paying for expensive meals, and the plane fares and hotel accommodations of the whole entourage, it seems as if they treat the nation’s coffers as their own expense account. This is sheer callousness and reflects an impunity in profligacy. (

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