MANILA - After Malacañang identified him as the host of President Arroyo's $20,000 dinner in Manhattan's Le Cirque restaurant, not a few people have started asking, who is Leyte 1st District Rep. Martin Romualdez?
According to his website (www.martinromualdez.com), Romualdez finished his law degree in the University of the Philippines before studying Administration and Management in Harvard University. He also finished his Bachelor of Arts degree in Government in Cornell University.
As a People Asia Magazine profile described him, "it would be quite an understatement to say that Martin has a smart head on his shoulders."
Romualdez also comes from a well-landed family. He is the third son of former Leyte Governor Benjamin Romualdez, the brother of former First Lady Imelda Marcos.
A first-term congressman, the 45-year-old House member ran under Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino party of President Arroyo during the 2007 elections.
He currently chairs the House Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship Development and is the vice-chairman of the Oversight and Banks and Financial Intermediaries Committees.
He is also a member of no less than eight House committees: ecology, economic affairs, higher and technical education, justice, revision of laws, social services, suffrage and electoral reforms, and ways and means.
Not many, however, know that he and the President's son, Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo, spearheaded the Charter change campaign in the House of Representatives earlier this year. House insiders say Romualdez is a close friend of Arroyo's younger son, Dato.
All these Palace connections seem to have reaped dividends for the young congressman.
According to his website, Romualdez has allocated P677,647,000.00 for various projects in his province, including the construction and rehabilitation of at least three bridges, improvement of an airport in Tacloban City and improvements of various roads.
He is also donating at least P300,000 of the province's money to Philippine General Hospital in Ermita, Manila, the National Kidney Transplant Institute and Philippine Heart Center in in Quezon City.
These projects, according to the website, were started in just a six-month period, from July 2007 to January 2008.
Accordng to Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello, a congressman is only given P70 million in pork barrel every year - a far cry from the P677 million allocated by Romualdez in just half a year.
He added, however, that Malacañang plays a big role in the release of funds to congressmen who are friendly with the administration. "It's Malacañang that decides and they give their favorites. Malacañang has colonized the House," he said.
Radio commentator Frank Villablanca is also questioning irregularities in some of Romualdez's projects such as the P2 million allocation for the construction of a road to Barangay Santol, a P1 million fund for a school building in Barangay Barrantes and another building in Barangay San Isidro.
An Waray party-list Rep. Florencio Noel admitted that there are irregularities in the projects but overall, Leyteños have benefited from them.
Romualdez has refused to grant media interviews about the issue, as well as his alleged payment of Mrs. Arroyo's Le Cirque dinner earlier this month.
His cousin and son of former First Lady Imelda Marcos, Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr, had this to say about the President's "lavish" dinner.
"It is not that expensive but if there is any fault, it was because they were insensitive," he said. With a report from Ces Drilon, ABS-CBN News