TERESA CEROJANO, The Associated Press – http://www.oregonlive.com/newsflash/index.ssf?/base/international-10/124991300778540.xml&;storylist=international

10 August 2009

MANILA, Philippines – President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s aides struggled to explain a reported $20,000 dinner bill racked up by her and her entourage in New York while the Philippines was mourning the passing of former leader Corazon Aquino.

A report by the New York Post’s online edition Friday said Arroyo was at Le Cirque restaurant in Manhattan with a large group “enjoying the good life.” Arroyo reportedly ordered several bottles of expensive wine, pushing the dinner tab up to $20,000. Arroyo spokesman Cerge Remonde on Monday called the report “exaggerated” and rejected calls to apologize. “If it was really ostentatious we should apologize, but it is not really ostentatious and we stand by that,” he said.

Opposition Sen. Francis Escudero said, “it leaves a bad taste in the mouth for them to spend so lavishly while so many are poor in the Philippines.” About a third of the Philippine population of 90 million lives on less than $2 a day. Remonde said the president’s entourage of about 30 had a “simple late night dinner” from a set menu that included soup, salad, a choice of fish or meat, and a choice of drinks.

The restaurant’s Web site lists two possible set menus for dinner-a “Chef’s Seasonal Menu” at $58 and a “Chef’s Tasting Menu” at $120 per person, with $60 wine pairings. Remonde said Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez-one of the richest members of Congress and nephew of former first lady Imelda Marcos-paid for the Aug. 2 dinner. He said it would have been “impolite” for Arroyo or her husband “to inquire from their host where they will be fed or what they will be fed.”

However, Romualdez’s office said it was the lawmaker’s brother Daniel who footed the bill, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported Tuesday. He was described as one of the most successful Filipino architects in New York. Rep. Walden Bello of the left-wing Akbayan party said he would file a complaint against Arroyo before the government’s Ombudsman for accepting a dinner treat, which he called “unethical and not legal under our anti-graft laws.” Romualdez could not be reached for comment. His staff said he was absent from the House session.

At the time of the dinner, the Philippines was mourning the passing of former President Aquino, the democracy icon whose Aug. 5 funeral drew the largest crowds since she led the 1986 “people power” revolt that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Arroyo was criticized for not returning to the Philippines quickly. She finally visited Aquino’s wake but only for several minutes. The two had a falling out over Aquino’s calls for Arroyo to resign on allegations of vote-rigging and corruption.

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Martin Romualdez very close to Arroyo sons

Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Philippine Daily Inquirer

12 August 2009

MANILA, Philippines—To casual observers, Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez is the “sidekick” of the First Couple’s elder son, Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo. By accounts, Romualdez, 45, and Mikey, 40, were a team in soliciting signatures early this year to push Charter change in the House of Representatives, and the campaign was even held during Romualdez’s birthday party at his Forbes Park mansion. They also reportedly approached Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia Jr. in March to make an offer—the speakership that he lost to Prospero Nograles in exchange for his support for Charter change.

But to those in the know, Romualdez is tighter with the First Couple’s younger son, Camarines Sur Rep. Diosdado “Dato” Arroyo—purportedly his true connection to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Romualdez is closer to Dato, 35, than to Mikey although the latter is closer to his age because they have more things in common, according to a party-list representative who asked not to be named, citing the sensitivity of the issue.

The Leyte representative evaded reporters Tuesday.

Dato Arroyo did not respond to calls from the Inquirer. Original Kampi members Dato and Romualdez are “original members of Kampi (Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino, since merged with Lakas-CMD), and both are first-termers,” the source said, adding: “Mikey is from Lakas and a second-termer.”

In their first crack at Congress, Romualdez and Dato have compiled massive state-funded projects for their respective districts. The projects are said to be worth P1.7 billion for Leyte and P3 billion for Camarines Sur. Romualdez and Dato hang out a lot with each other, sometimes in Malacanang, said a local government official from the Visayas. Both men were in Ms Arroyo’s party when she flew to the United States late last month to meet with US President Barack Obama. (Dato was the only one among the three Arroyo siblings to accompany the First Couple in their US trip.)

The President has played a key role in Leyte politics. She brokered an agreement between the two rival political families—the Romualdezes and the Petillas—with Rep. Remedios “Matin” Petilla going into retirement and giving way to Martin Romualdez, and Gov. Carlos Jericho Petilla (Lakas) getting another term in office.

‘Generous to a fault’

Romualdez is a nephew of former first lady Imelda Marcos. The local government official described him as “generous to a fault, not only with his money but [also] with his time with the President and every one in her entourage.” “He usually picks up the tab for tickets and food and hotel accommodations,” the official said.

An opposition representative from North Luzon said Romualdez had not been subtle in getting on the good side of the President and her sons because he was angling for the House’s top spot. “He does not hide his ambition to emulate his grandfather [granduncle], Daniel Romualdez, who was Speaker from 1957 to 1962,” said the North Luzon lawmaker.

Romualdez’s chief of staff, Anjuli Larla Tan-Eneran, herself admitted that being close to Malacanang had its perks. “The congressman, I could say, is relatively close to the President,” Tan-Eneran told the Inquirer in an interview last year. “That is why the President often invites him to join her travels abroad. There is always an invitation from Malacanang and even from the House [leadership] for him to join the presidential entourage.”

‘Softening the ground’

Rep. Teodoro Casino of the militant party-list group Bayan Muna said Ms Arroyo should have thought twice before letting a nephew of Imelda Marcos foot the $20,000 (close to P1 million) bill for the dinner at Le Cirque in New York. Casino said that whether it was Romualdez or his New York-based sibling Daniel who had picked up the tab, Ms Arroyo should have been “more circumspect” in accepting a gift in the form of a lavish dinner for her and her husband’s wedding anniversary.

“The President, of all people, should know that the Romualdezes are not ordinary people. They have a stake in the ill-gotten Marcos wealth held by the government, and for a long time, Imelda has been negotiating with the government for a settlement,” the party-list lawmaker told the Inquirer. As it is, Casino said, the dinner could be seen as a move to “soften the ground” preparatory to an agreement to free the Marcos wealth, probably in the last few months of the administration.

“[The President] should have been more circumspect in choosing who pays for her dinner. The issue is not that the Romualdezes can afford a P1-million dinner; the issue is that they have a vested interest in treating somebody who has control over their family’s supposed fortune,” he said. Casino said the claim of Romualdez’s office that it was Daniel Romualdez who had paid the bill could just be a scheme to block Congress from investigating the dinner.

“Daniel is a private citizen and based in the US, and our laws cannot reach him. It could be a ploy to reduce the accountability of those involved,” Casino said. He pointed out that the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act prohibited state officials from accepting “excessive” gifts except from family members.

‘Dead horse’

Romualdez showed up at the House session hall Tuesday but swiftly disappeared into the members-only lounge to evade a clutch of reporters seeking his comments on the New York dinner controversy.

Cavite Rep. Crispin Remulla said Romualdez should speak out on the issue because the House’s reputation was at stake, especially because a number of representatives were present at the dinner. But Speaker Nograles said he would rather move on than “beat a dead horse.”

“Let’s put the issue to rest. The issue has been exhaustively talked about and Malacanang has already explained it,” Nograles said in a text message.

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What’s wrong with eating in a hotdog stand?

By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez, Reporter, INQUIRER.net – http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/nation/view/20090810-219565/Whats-wrong-with-eating-in-a-hotdog-stand

10 August 2009

MANILA, Philippines —Representative Teodoro Casino of Bayan Muna party list posed this question to Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, who defended the P1-million dinner at the posh Le Cirque restaurant in New York City by saying that the President can’t be expected to eat in a hotdog stand. “And why not? Is the President so extraordinary that she can’t do what most Pinoys do in New York?” Casino said in a text message.

Casino also criticized Remonde for blaming the group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) for creating “agitation propaganda to anger the people.” “The President’s apologists led by him (Remonde) are the ones agitating our people by dismissing the dinner at such a posh restaurant as just an ordinary set meal,” the congressman said.

In a separate statement, Bayan said Malacanang should just stick to the issue instead of pointing the blame on them for creating an issue over the dinner. “Bayan was not the original source of the story but the New York Post. It is therefore ridiculous to say that the issue of Mrs. Arroyo’s dinner at Le Cirque restaurant in New York is part of ‘agitation-propaganda’ against the Arroyo government.

Remonde has gone on to accuse Bayan of being a ‘communist front’ that seeks to overthrow the government,” said the group’s secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. “No, Secretary Remonde, we didn’t start the fire, but you are surely fanning the flames,” Reyes added. Even if it the dinner was courtesy of Leyte Representative Martin Romualdez, Reyes said it does not make the incident “less revolting.”

“The perception remains that Philippine public officials are living it up while the rest of the Filipinos wallow in poverty,” he said. Remonde had branded the report as “grossly exaggerated” and insisted that the dinner was a “simple” one.

Interviewed on radio, he said that the President cannot be expected to eat in a hotdog stand.

During the dinner on August 2, Remonde said the Malacanang group occupied two tables and ordered a set menu consisting of soup, salad, main dish, drinks, and coffee and tea.

The article of Richard Johnson in the New York Post section of “Eat and Drink” read: “The economic downturn hasn’t persuaded everyone to pinch pennies. Philippines President Maria Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was at Le Cirque the other night with a large entourage enjoying the good life, even though the former comptroller of her country’s armed services, Carlos Garcia, was found guilty earlier this year of perjury and two of his sons were arrested in the US on bulk cash-smuggling charges. Macapagal-Arroyo ordered several bottles of very expensive wine, pushing the dinner tab up to $20,000.”