Nograles: No House money spent for US trip

by Carmela Fonbuena, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Aug 18 2009 01:02 AM | Updated as of Aug 18 2009 09:19 AM

Speaker urges solons to pay up

MANILA - The House of Representatives did not spend a single centavo for the trip of 28 of its members who were part of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's entourage to the US.

Nograles told reporters on Monday that the House of Representatives did not spend for the trip. “As far as the House is concerned, we have not yet spent anything. If we will be billed later, saka natin pag-usapan,” he said.

He echoed the statement of Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante, one of the congressmen in the entourage, who said that he did not pay for his trip to the US. 

Nograles also said the 28 (including himself) who joined President Arroyo's working visit is 4 times the original number of legislators that he previously said he would allow to join the trip.

The US trip from July 29 to August 5 enticed many to join since Mrs. Arroyo had a scheduled July 30 meeting and photo opportunity with US President Barack Obama.

Asked who among the 28 were official members of the delegation, Nograles said, “You cannot distinguish anymore."

To be able to join, all 27 congressmen had to first seek Nograles' approval.

“They asked me for travel authority. They didn't ask me for a per diem,” Nograles said. “It's one of the hazards of the job. To sign travel authority."

However, Nograles said the large House contingent wasn't an added burden since a chartered plane was used for the trip.

“We used a chartered plane. Whether it's 4 or 20 people who go, the Philippine government or the US government will pay the same amount,” he added.

Congressmen will pay

Following the public uproar over the lavish dinners of the presidential entourage, Nograles proposed that congressmen charge the excess expenses to their travel allowance, or pay out of their own pockets.

“Let's just pay it on our own. Para matigil na ito,” Nograles said.

Nograles also disclosed that the House of Representatives has never been billed for expenses of congressmen joining President Arroyo's trips.

“Not under my watch. In the few times that I traveled with the president, I was not billed,” he said.

If the House of Representatives will be billed for the 28 congressmen in the entourage, Nograles said it will be the first time this would happen.

“It's very clear, when a lot of people (congressmen) want to go, I say, we are on our own. When there is a billing that will come na hindi sinagot, that is the time that we will know that we will bill each person who was there equally."

“I don't know ano yung excess. Pag dating dito, saka natin pag-usapan. We will probably charge it sa kanilang travel allowance,” he said.

US gov't paid?

Nograles claimed that the US government also paid for the trip since it had invited President Arroyo.

“I cannot tell whether there will be a bill or there will not be a bill, because it's the US government that invited the Philippine delegation. We had a series of meetings with them. Pag inimbita ka, sagot ng host country,” he said. "Kung walang bill, that means sinagot either partly by Philippine government and partly by the American government."

“Usually, the expenses are paid by the host....I don't know which portion or how many people ang sasagutin. It is the US government that invited [the Philippine government],” he said.

“That is how these foreign travels occur....That is the usual practice. If you get invited by any nation, they also have a budget for accepting dignitaries,” he added, without distinguishing whether the trip was a working visit or a state visit.

Two generous solons

Two congressmen were earlier linked to the two controversial dinners that President Arroyo and First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo had in the US with the rest of the entourage.

Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez admitted paying for a US$15,000 meal in Washington's Bobby Van's steakhouse.

According to Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez paid for the US$20,000 meal in New York's Le Cirque. However, a staff of Rep. Romualdez has told a local paper in Leyte that it was Martin's brother, Daniel, who is based in the US, who picked up the tab at Le Cirque.

The expensive dinners were revealed in separate US publications, the Washington Post, and the New York Post, respectively.

Nograles was no longer in the US when the big entourage had dinner at Le Cirque and at Bobby Van's steakhouse.

Opposition Rep. Teofisto "TG" Guingona III said last week that President Arroyo has overspent for her foreign travels.

Guingona cited a Commission on Audit Report (COA) report, which he said found that the Office of the President spent P2.7 billion from 2003 to 2008, or P1.6 billion more than the P1.1 billion allocated for her travel expenses. Nograles however has slammed the report saying it was "blown out of proportion."