MANILA – Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella could not say for sure if President Rodrigo Duterte's common-law wife Cielito “Honeylet” Avanceña paid for her trip to New York, where she was invited to an event hosted by United States First Lady Melania Trump.
In a press briefing Friday, Abella said he can only "assume" that Avanceña was invited in her personal capacity and that she may have paid for her expenses while overseas.
"I assume that she was… that would include… it’s just an assumption, that when she went on a personal capacity - I cannot categorically say but I am simply assuming that that includes paying for her own fare," Abella said.
Questions on the propriety of Avanceña's trip were raised after she was spotted in New York City watching the hit Broadway musical “Miss Saigon” and flanked by supposed government security escorts.
Several Philippine officials are also currently in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly. Malacañang earlier said President Rodrigo Duterte would skip the event to deal with the continuing crisis in Marawi City.
When asked by ABS-CBN North America News Bureau correspondent Don Tagala whether she was invited to the global meet, Avanceña answered in the affirmative.
Foreign Affairs spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar later said that while Avanceña was not part of the official Philippine delegation to the UN General Assembly, she was in New York as she was invited to participate in some of the side meetings due to her advocacy work.
Abella then clarified that Avanceña made the trip to New York upon the invitation of the US First Lady to an event she is set to host for other spouses of world leaders. He said said he would soon release a copy of Trump’s invitation to Avanceña.
As for security aides who accompanied Avanceña, Abella said he was not sure whether they were provided by the consulate or were part of the Presidential Security Group.
“I suppose she was being given port courtesy. Usually, people of a certain stature are being given courtesy without having to spend for them,” Abella said.