THE $20,000 dinner that Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her husband and entourage reportedly recently had at New York City's celebrated Le Cirque restaurant is truly obscene.
It does not matter that no taxpayers money was used to pay for it. According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer the dinner was hosted by Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez as a blowout for the wedding anniversary of the presidential couple. But even so, nearly P1 million for one dinner for only 50 people?! They allegedly drank 11 bottles of Krug champagne at $550 a pop (!), and had several servings of caviar ($1,400).
The tabloid paper New York Post broke the story in its gossip column on Friday. Arroyo's press secretary Cerge Remonde tried to belittle the progressive group Bayan, for its statements of outrage over such a costly dinner when so many Filipinos are hungry, by attacking the group and claiming it was a front for communist forces bent on overthrowing the Philippine government.
According to one estimate the $20,000 spent on the lavish dinner could have fed three-square meals to 3,000 poor families.
Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez, who took part in the dinner, downplayed the costs by saying that a $20,000 tab was high for Manila but not for New York City, where everything is more expensive. "I don't know why they're making such a big deal," he told the Inquirer in an interview. "It's New York where everything is more expensive than Manila. We were more than 50 in our group, the president's security and the Secret Service joined us."
Still, that comes out to $400 a head, which seems steep to me, even for New York.
Even staunch Arroyo ally Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who was with the president on this trip but did not attend the dinner because she was tired, lambasted the event for being so lavish during a worldwide economic recession. "I can sympathize with critics because it sounds so outrageous and outlandish that people from a developing country should rack up a bill of P1 million," she told the Inquirer.
We came to expect such lavish spending from the Marcoses, but not from a president and her allies who were originally swept into office after Edsa II on a popular wave of repugnance at former President Joseph Estrada's corruption. How times have changed!