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EDITORIAL - Profligate

President Arroyo’s working visit to the United States finally warranted mention in the American media. In its Aug. 7 issue, the New York Post’s well-known gossip section Page Six reported: “The economic downturn hasn’t persuaded everyone to pinch pennies. Philippines President Maria Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was at Le Cirque the other night with a large entourage enjoying the good life…” It added that the President “ordered several bottles of very expensive wine, pushing the dinner tab up to $20,000.”

The dinner reportedly included 11 bottles of Krug champagne at $510 per bottle, Osetra caviar at $1,400 per five ounces, a “Chef’s Tasting Menu” of wine paired with a dish at $4,500 for 25 orders, a three-course “Chef’s Seasonal Menu” at $1,450 for 25 orders, and appetizers that included lobster salad, burgundy escargot and soft shell crab tempura.

As of yesterday, the official conversion rate for $20,000 was P956,603.15. For 30 people, that’s nearly P32,000 per head for one meal. Yesterday Malacañang described the report as grossly exaggerated, saying there were only two tables and only the set menu was ordered. Palace officials had initially said they did not even know how much the dinner cost as the tab was picked up by Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez. Now you know why Romualdez is a favorite traveling companion of the President.

The dinner capped the New York leg of the US trip, wherein the President received a diplomatic nudge from US President Barack Obama to push through with the general elections in May and transfer power as scheduled to her successor on June 30, 2010. Three stopovers were scrapped so President Arroyo could make it to the wake of Corazon Aquino, but the New York leg was not cut short, Palace officials explained, to allow the President and the First Gentleman to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

Malacañang officials insist that no public funds were spent for the sumptuous dinner. Palace officials must be counting on the opaqueness in the budget process for both the legislative and executive branches to bear out this story. This doesn’t take away the lavish aspect of the dinner, which caught the attention of journalists working in Ground Zero of the global financial meltdown. Such profligacy in the midst of an economic downturn – and national mourning back home – is just one of the many reasons why Corazon Aquino is dearly missed.

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