PerryScope: by Perry Diaz
Six months ago, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo went on a three-country European junket with an entourage of 192 which included the entire First Family (nine persons), 34 congressmen and their spouses, and 50 business cronies. By the end of 2007, Arroyo had traveled to 18 countries -- one every 20 days! -- and spent P588.5 million. In 2006, she traveled to 13 countries and spent P398 million. In 2005, she traveled to four countries and spent P154 million. This year, the cost of her travels continue to rack up millions of taxpayers' money.
Her forthcoming "working" visit to the United States on June 23 to 29 once again manifests her high-flying addiction to junketing. Arroyo will meet with President George W. Bush at the Oval Office to thank him for "all the help he gave to the Philippines during the eight years of his term." The two leaders are also going to discuss ways of "strengthening" U.S.-Philippines relations. It seems to me that that is always the reason for a Philippine President to visit the White House. I wonder if Arroyo realized that Bush is now a lame duck President and will be out of office next January. Shouldn't she wait until John McCain or Barack Obama becomes President? Of course, that would be another opportunity for her to come back next year.
While in the U.S., Arroyo is also going to attend a dinner organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the ASEAN-U.S. Business Council. It will cost Arroyo $8,000 for a table for ten. As to how many of her retinue of politicians, government officials, and their spouses would attend, I wouldn't be surprised if all of them would want to go to the dinner. Of course, Gloria will pick up the tab which will eventually be paid for by poor Juan de la Cruz.
Arroyo's junkets and her other expenses have cost Juan de la Cruz a lot of money. A recent report by the Commission on Audit (COA) showed that in 2007 Arroyo's foreign and domestic travels totaled P622.6 million. That's 239% more than the all the salaries of the employees in the Office of the President which would include all executive offices, agencies, commissions, and committees under her.
In addition, the COA report showed that P618.6 million were disbursed as "donations" to unknown beneficiaries. And add to that another P531.9 million for all types of expenses such as confidential expenses, consultancy expenses, extraordinary expenses, representation expenses and allowances, other personal benefits, year-end bonuses, "cash gifts," and honoraria. The sum is a whopping P1.8 billion. That's a lot of moolah -- enough to build 36,000 Gawad Kalinga homes.
During the 110th Independence Day last June12, Arroyo cut the cost of the Independence Day program at the Rizal Park to show the people that she's willing to conserve money at a time of rising food prices. However, on the night of June12, Arroyo hosted a glitzy reception at the Malacanang Palace for the diplomatic corps and the country's elite.
What is appalling was the ostentatious display of pomp at the Malacanang reception, especially the revival of the elitist dance, the "rigodon de honor." Arroyo handpicked the 20 couples -- the country's rich and famous or, I might say, the cream of Gloria's "Enchanted Kingdom" -- who participated in the rigodon.
It is interesting to note that the last time the rigodon was performed in Malacanang was on June 30, 1981 during the third inauguration of President Ferdinand Marcos. When Cory Aquino ascended to the presidency after Marcos was overthrown in 1987, she prohibited the rigodon from being performed in all official functions, an oblique rejection of a dance considered to be fitting only for the high and mighty ruling elite. After 27 years of not performing this unnecessary display of power and affluence, Gloria revived the rigodon at a time when the people are in dire need and impoverished.
After all the speeches at the June 12th reception had ended, the media people were unceremoniously told to leave. Thus, nobody from the media witnessed the "rigodon de honor" except one -- outgoing Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye. Bunye disclosed and described the rigodon in detail -- including the names of the participants -- in his weekly newspaper column. Arroyo should have told him to leave the reception too.
Arroyo's junkets and high-maintenance lifestyle make a lot of people wonder if she realized that the country is in a state of chaos and decay. Recent polls show that seven out of 10 Filipinos cannot afford to buy food nor pay their electric bills. With the price of rice going up as high as P50 per kilo today, how can a family of five survive on a daily wage of P70? Yet, we have the country's leader squandering money left and right that could otherwise be used to provide shelter and food for the powerless poor. Is she likened to a modern-day equivalent of Nero who fiddled while Rome was burning?