MANILA - President Arroyo ate filet mignon while the rest of her 65-man entourage ate lobster, steak and fine wines at a middle-class restaurant near the White House last July 30, according to various sources interviewed by ABS-CBN.
The floor manager and waiters of Bobby Van's Steakhouse said President Arroyo had a reservation for 65 people at the restaurant and that the entire group filled up at least one conference room. They declined to confirm if the dinner tab amounted to $15,000 (P718,950 in today's exchange rate) as reported in a Washington Post blog.
"Someone called in advance to place the orders. Mrs. Arroyo had the house specialty, filet mignon," said one of the restaurant's staff. A check on the Bobby Van's Steakhouse website showed that the filet mignon cost about $39 (P1,870).
A separate source, who was a member of President Arroyo's entourage, confirmed the dinner at Bobby Van's but denied that it was lavish or extravagant.
The source said Mrs. Arroyo and ranking Philippine officials, which included Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap and Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, and a group of congressmen, sat down on the long table for dinner.
Mrs. Arroyo and the top Philippine officials ordered fresh oysters for appetizers and feasted on steaks and lobster for the main course, according to the source. The rest of the party, including Secret Service men and members of the Philippines’ Presidential Security Group, ate hamburgers and soda.
Mrs. Arroyo did not have wine but members of her entourage did, one waiter said.
Steaks at the popular restaurant are priced anywhere from $38 (P1,830) to $42 (P2,023), according to the Bobby Van's Steakhouse website. Half bottles of red and white wine at the restaurant are priced between $18 (P867) to $60 (P2,890) while the most expensive bottle on the winelist, a Louis Roederer Cristal Reims, is priced at $575 (P27,697).
The restaurant’s staff said the dinner started around 9:30 p.m. and ended before 11 p.m. One waiter said he remembered the group for the hefty tip they left. The standard tip at the restaurant is 15 percent of the total bill, according to the staff.
A member of the entourage said Mrs. Arroyo and her group were so full after the meal that they decided to walk back to the Willar Hotel, about two blocks away from the popular steakhouse.
Bobby Van's is a popular establishment, just a block away from the White House, and a top tourist destination in Washington D.C. It is also a favorite among low-level up to middle-level federal employees because of its proximity to the White House.
The Washington Post story said the dinner at the Bobby Van's happened three days before Mrs. Arroyo and the same entourage dined at the prestigious Le Cirque restaurant in Manhattan, New York.
Reports said the dinner tab in New York reached $20,000 or almost a million pesos.
Malacañang denied that Mrs. Arroyo paid for the New York dinner and pointed to Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez as the generous host.
Martin Romualdez did not pay?
Romualdez's lawyer, Nick Esmale, meanwhile, denied that it was the congressman who paid for the allegedly $20,000 dinner tab at the Le Cirque.
Esmale said, in an article posted on the Leyte Samar Daily Express, that it was the congressman's brother, Daniel, who hosted the dinner and paid the bill.
The lawyer said the congressman's brother is one of the most successful Filipinos in the United States and is considered one of the top architects in the state.
Esmale said Daniel asked his younger brother if he could host a dinner for Mrs. Arroyo and her entourage after learning that the group are in America for a meeting with US President Barack Obama.
Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello on Wednesday urged the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate President Arroyo for violating Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
Bello cited Section 4(h) of the law which states that “public officials shall lead modest lives appropriate to their positions and income,” and that “they shall not engage in extravagant or ostentatious displays of wealth."
He added that if Romualdez paid for the dinner, then both Arroyo and Romualdez could be charged with bribery.