MANILA - An activist group on Saturday asked Malacañang to explain President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her entourage's alleged $20,000 bill at a prestigious French restaurant in New York City during her recent US trip.
“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?” Renato Reyes, secretary general of the militant group Bayan, said in a statement.
Reyes was referring to a news article posted on New York Post online's "Page Six", which alleged that Mrs. Arroyo wined and dined with a big entourage at the famous French restaurant, Le Cirque, in Manhattan.
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."
This equivalent to almost one million in Philippine peso (P955,400).
“This is one dinner that certainly leaves a bad taste in the mouth, at least for the rest of the Filipino people,” Reyes said.
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 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."
Early this week, local research firm Social Weather Stations (SWS) released its second quarter 2009 survey, which showed that 7.2 families considered themselves as food-poor, 33 percent put themselves on the food-borderline while 28 percent considered themselves as not food-poor.
SWS said the one-quarter rise in Self-Rated Food Poverty was also sharpest in Mindanao. It rose by 11 points, from 36 percent in February to 47 percent in June.
The median food-poverty thresholds for poor households rose slightly to P5,000 in Metro Manila, while it stayed at P3,000 in Balance Luzon and Mindanao, and at P4,000 in the Visayas. These levels had already been reached several years ago.
The Second Quarter of 2009 Social Weather Survey was conducted over June 19-22, 2009 using face-to-face interviews of 1,500 adults divided into random samples of 300 each in Metro Manila, Visayas, and Mindanao, and 600 in the Balance of Luzon, the firm said.