WASHINGTON D.C. - How much will it cost for the chance to shake President Aquino’s hand? If you’re a Filipino in the American capital, that would be $250.
That is the cost of admission at the launching of the US-Philippine Society on the eve of President Aquino’s scheduled meeting with President Obama at the White House on June 8.
The event will be held at the plush Mandarin Oriental that overlooks the 14th Street Bridge and the glistening waters of the Tidal Basin. An estimated 400 people are expected to attend the launching that has raised not a few eyebrows in the Fil-Am community.
That is apparently the only opportunity for Fil-Ams to sit down with the President in Washington DC. His only other scheduled get-together with Filipinos will be in Los Angeles, California on the homeward leg of his journey.
ABS-CBN News sources said most of the tables have already been purchased by “rich and famous” behind the formation of the society, including communications magnate Manny Pangilinan, banker Washington SyCip and other Filipino business titans. Large American multinationals operating in the Philippines gobbled up the rest of the tables.
But some officials reportedly fretted there might not be enough “Filipino faces” in the crowd so they’ve been calling on Fil-Am community leaders to cough up the $250 and beef up the Filipino presence in the crowd.
Unlike his predecessor, there will apparently be no free dinners from President Aquino.
Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s visit to the US was often accompanied by controversy. While in New York, she reportedly splurged on a $20,000 dinner in Manhattan’s Le Cirque; then plunked another $15,000 at the Bobby Vans steakhouse here.
She also appeared overzealous in her desire to personally meet President Obama. And while President Aquino had also sought a White House meeting, officials point out that he was coming here on an invitation of President Obama delivered by State Secretary Hillary Clinton during a visit to Manila.
Still, some Fil-Ams privately told ABS-CBN News that there could have been a better use for their $250, such as donating the sum to any of the charity projects DC-based Fil-Ams mount every year for the poor back home.
“We can’t say no,” said one community leader who goes home regularly for medical missions. Officials from the Philippine Embassy have reportedly been making calls to urge people to buy tickets and come see the President.
“Nakakahiya humindi,” explained another Fil-Am.
Fil-Ams have mixed feelings about President Aquino although the conviction of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona in a first-ever successful impeachment trial in the Philippines appears to have buoyed his stocks here.
Some of his supporters in the US Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG) plan to picket outside the White House to show support for President Aquino, whom they campaigned for in the last elections.
“It’s important we show President Obama that President Aquino has the support of Fil-Am voters here,” explained USP4GG member Eric Lachica.
The President is arriving on the evening of June 6 and is scheduled to meet with President Obama at the Oval Office on June 8. The meeting appears to be keenly followed by Philippine media. The White House has reportedly asked the President's press handlers to trim down his entourage -- including some 30 accredited Filipino journalists -- because there simply won't be enough room.