I SPENT the day yesterday in Dubai covering the visit of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was in the UAE to promote investment in the Philippines. “We want you to buy more than just bananas from us,” she said at a luncheon hosted by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce at the Mina al-Salam Hotel.
Dressed in royal purple, Arroyo rattled off the economic achievements of her administration that range from low inflation, a strong peso, higher tax collection and a record 7 percent economic growth in 2007. Being an economist by profession, the president is naturally very good at presenting economic data and pointing out her government’s successes. Too bad that she isn’t quite as good when it comes to politics and corruption.
I watched John Nery of the Inquirer earlier this week on Al-Jazeera English television saying that the single thing that Arroyo could do to salvage some of her credibility would be to make the appointment of the next head of the Commission on Elections a transparent process. I couldn’t agree more since the Comelec has been complicit in the huge amount of irregularities (i.e. cheating) that have taken place in the past two elections.
Later in the day, Arroyo returned to the same hotel to meet Filipino community leaders and witness the launch of the OFW cash card, which is a joint venture with Smart telecommunications of the Philippines. In this scheme, an OFW signs up to the program and gets a debit card issued for the family in the Philippines. He or she can then transfer money back home via a text message. The family back home then gets a text message saying “such and such an amount has been transferred to your account”, and they can then withdraw that money from an ATM or use the card in stores that have electronic points of service.
This service is being offered in the UAE in conjunction with such money exchangers as UAE Exchange and Al Ansari.
The only sour note in all of this talk of positive economic developments in the Philippines was, as Migrante pointed out in a press release, the fact that Arroyo stayed at the seven-star luxury hotel the Burj al-Arab. Not only did she stay there, but she slept in the Royal Suite that allegedly costs $10,900 a night! Whether the Philippine government paid for this or someone else did, is unclear.
Accompanying Arroyo on her trip were a business delegation and a slew of young congressmen and women.