MANILA - An opposition leader and presidential aspirant joined activist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) in criticizing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her entourage's alleged US$20,000 dinner in New York at a fancy French restaurant during her recent US trip.
Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay on Saturday assailed Malacañang for President Arroyo and her entourage's alleged lavish spending in New York early this week while the people were mourning the death of former President Corazon Aquino.
"While the nation was in mourning, a report that Mrs. Arroyo and her people were celebrating in New York with expensive wine leaves a bad taste in the mouth," Binay said, after learning of the presidential entourage's allegedly expensive dinner at the prestigious Le Cirque restaurant in Manhattan New York.
Citing online reports, Binay said Mrs. Arroyo and her entourage allegedly ordered 11 bottles of Krug champagne priced at $510 per bottle. The whole entourage also feasted on Osetra caviar ($1,400 for five ounces), a "Chef's Tasting Menu" or wine paired with a dish for $4,500 for 25 orders and a "three-course Chef's Seasonal Menu worth $1,450 for 25 orders.
Binay said "the dinner was held a few hours before they left for Manila to pay their respects to Aquino at the Manila Cathedral on August 5."
New York Post report
A New York Post online news article said Mrs. Arroyo's wine and dine at the Le Cirque totaled $20,000, which is equivalent to almost one million in Philippine peso (P955,400).
The New York Post article, posted August 7, said: "Philippines President Maria Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was at Le Cirque the other night with a large entourage enjoying the good life... Macapagal-Arroyo ordered several bottles of very expensive wine, pushing the dinner tab up to $20,000."
"The Arroyo administration talks about giving honor and respect to the memory of the former president. It seems that spending an astonishing amount of money - enough to provide almost 3,000 hungry families with three square meals - appears to be their idea of honoring and respecting Cory," Binay said.
He added: "How Mrs. Arroyo and her administration can justify blowing P960,000 for dinner and expensive wine at a time of economic difficulty is beyond me."
Expensive dinner amid hunger
Activist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) had earlier asked Malacañang to explain the expensive dinner.
“Malacañang has a lot of explaining to do about this latest allegation which came out in an American paper. Who spent for the lavish dinner? Is it appropriate for a head of state of a Third World country like Mrs. Arroyo to wine and dine in such a manner, given that we’re in the midst of a crisis?” Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said in a statement.
The activist leader said that even if the expensive dinner was paid by somebody else, "it still would not look appropriate" because of the Philippines' poverty and hunger rate.
President Arroyo met with US President Barack Obama last July 30 in Washington D.C. and visited New York before cutting short her trip just in time for the late President Corazon Aquino's wake at the Manila Cathedral last August 5.
Bayan said that the Gallup's World Food Day survey released last November 2008, showed 4 in 10 Filipinos experience hunger "often or sometimes" in the last 12 months.
“It’s embarrassing for the Philippines to have such write-ups appear in a foreign paper. It begs the question, what is Mrs. Arroyo really doing during her trips? Are taxpayers being made to shoulder the lavish lifestyles of the so-called rich and famous?” Reyes said.
He said the supposed lavish display at the prestigious restaurant bolsters perception that Philippine government officials are corrupt "and are living it up while others wallow in crisis."