More Arroyo dinners exposed; Palace mum

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 17 2009 05:30 PM | Updated as of Aug 18 2009 02:45 AM

MANILA - A Malacañang spokesman on Monday remained tight-lipped on other restaurants visited by President Arroyo and her entourage in the United States following reports that the group spent $35,000 (P1.69 million) for two meals in two differents restaurants in New York and Washington.

Deputy Palace Spokeswoman Lorelei Fajardo did not confirm reports that President Arroyo and her entourage also visited Bouley restaurant and Wolfgang’s Steakhouse in New York. She said, however, that the dinners may have been one of several that Mrs. Arroyo went to while in the US from July 30 to August 4.

Fajardo said she did not know who paid for the dinners but said that if it was an official occasion, then the Office of the President paid the bill. "If the lunch or dinner was private, then private funds should have been used," she said.

Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante and Batangas Rep. Hermilando Mandanas earlier confirmed that the group had dined in Bouley restaurant on August 2. Mindoro Occidental Rep. Amelita Villarosa, meanwhile, said the entourage also dined at Wolfgang's Steakhouse on Park Avenue, Manhattan.

The two dinners are separate from Mrs. Arroyo's two "lavish" dinners in Bobby Van's Steakhouse on July 30 and Le Cirque restaurant on August 2.

The Le Cirque dinner reportedly cost about $20,000 and the dinner in Washington, $15,000. Palace spokesmen said Congressmen Danilo Suarez (Quezon) and Martin Romualdez (Leyte) paid for the dinners.

At least two lawmakers have petitioned the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate the dinners for possible graft violations.

Fajardo, meanwhile, urged the media to put the issue to rest after an alleged Filipino Reporter story quoted the Le Cirque maitre'd as saying that the President's dinner was not lavish.

Philippine Consul General to New York Cecilia Rebong also denied reports that the consulate's funds were used to pay for Mrs. Arroyo's expenses while she was in New York.

"I categorically state that these reports are not true. The funds allocated by the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Consulate General in New York are never used to pay for expenses related to official/working visits of the President. The Consulate funds were not used to pay for hotel accommodation, transportation, meals, or any expenses related to the recent New York visit of the President," Rebong said in a statement.

She added that nobody from the Consulate in New York contacted any media agency in Manila about this matter. "Therefore, all these allegations supposedly coming from a Consulate staff are false," she said.