‘Junket’ time

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

If that was a so “productive” second trip to Singapore, then why keep it hush-hush? The un-announced weekend trip to Singapore of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM, for short) along with several Philippine government officials who included Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez would have been a non-issue had Malacanang Palace been more transparent about it. The hullaballoo erupted after the two Ferdinands flew to Singapore to attend and watch the resumption of F1 Grand Prix 2022 hosted every year by the City State since 2008.

As early as Thursday last week, the trip to Singapore was already buzzing in the rumor mills. Malacañang reporters were merely brushed off when they sought to confirm from Press Secretary Trixie Angeles. However, Angeles was either really clueless or just out of the official loop. In both situation though, the Press Secretary was apparently the last to know.

After photos in social media came out on the not-so-secret junket to Singapore Grand Prix, Angeles was forced to confirm that indeed PBBM went there. Ironically, one of them was a Facebook post by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long that showed a picture of the PM with PBBM along with his wife, First Lady Lisa Araneta-Marcos.

Angeles replied to media queries through a Facebook post on Monday morning. She included a screen grab of a statement by Singaporean minister for manpower Tan See Leng, who confirmed that Marcos was among the foreign leaders who watched the Formula 1 Grand Prix, along with Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr., Saudi Arabia adviser to the Royal Court Dr. Fahad Bin Abdullah Toonsi, etc.

On his own Facebook account on Monday night, PBBM posted this: “They say that playing golf is the best way to drum up business, but I say it’s Formula 1. What a productive weekend!” Obviously, PBBM perhaps referred to his predecessors “playing golf” during their watch at Malacanang. “It was fulfilling to have been invited alongside several dignitaries and to have met new business friends who showed that they are ready and willing to invest in the Philippines. Will be sharing more details on this at a later time,” PBBM added.

While he does a 24/7 job, the Chief Executive is entitled anyway to “President’s time” for rest and recreation.

Apparently, Singapore Prime Minister invited PBBM to the Grand Prix as the host of this highly popular Grand Prix car-racing tournament. As the host government, it is an all expenses paid trip. That is, only for the guest President and members of his official delegation.

PBBM first flew to Singapore for a state visit last Sept.6-7, along with presidential son, House deputy majority leader Ilocos Norte Rep. Sandro Marcos and the Speaker, a presidential first cousin. Both the Speaker and Rep. Marcos just came back from their latest official trips last Sept.18-24 to New York where they accompanied anew the President. Photos uploaded on the Grand Prix official website showed PBBM and their official party were only too willing to pose for pictures. So there should be no reason to keep it secret.

Still, however, why was the Chief Executive not forthcoming about it in the first place? It did not help any when Angeles was kept in the dark. No wonder she finally resigned yesterday.

Also totally exiting out of the Cabinet is erstwhile Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez. Several weeks after Rodriguez announced his demotion as presidential chief of staff (PCOS), retired Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin who succeeded him announced yesterday PBBM decided against creating this post. Bersamin took his oath of office as the new Executive Secretary of PBBM yesterday at Malacanang along with the nine of the ten Cabinet members who got bypassed last week by the Commission on Appointments (CA).

PBBM issued new ad interim appointments to them, including Information Technology Secretary Ivan John Uy who is still out of the country on official trip to Romania. Meanwhile, also on official trip is Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla who flew to Geneva over the weekend to lead the Philippine delegation to the 51st United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) dialogues and bilateral meetings in Switzerland.

In a radio interview, House Majority Leader Manuel Jose Dalipe defended the Singapore junket of the two highest leaders of the Lower House which happened after the lawmakers adjourned already last Sept.30. Actually, it’s junket time already for many of the Senators and House members with the start of the month-long recess of the 19th Congress.

In fact, Senate president Juan Miguel Zubiri is off to the United States next week with his family, obviously for rest and vacation. According to the Senate chief, personal trips come out of pocket expenses of the lawmakers. “It’s our break from this week to Nov. 7, kaya kanya kanyang lakad yan. Some official, others just vacationing with family,” Zubiri candidly admitted. Both chambers of Congress will resume the first regular sessions on Nov. 7.

Unlike in the Executive Branch, the Senate chief pointed out, lawmakers are not bound by travel orders on foreign trips. “Prior notice is not needed with us…For members of the Legislature, it’s not necessary, especially if it’s funded on their own,” Zubiri pointed out.

In the case of national government officials in the Executive Branch and presidential appointees, they need prior permission from the Office of the President. For local government officials, they need prior permission from the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), he added.

Incidentally, the processing of travel authority or travel order is one of the glorified tasks of the PCOS. Speaking from experience, Albay Congressman Joey Salceda recalled this is in the job description of the PCOS. Salceda once served as PCOS of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Salceda himself is part of a congressional delegation who flew yesterday to Singapore on the first stop of a three-nation ASEAN swing. Salceda vows to make the best out of junket time of Congress to check Singapore’s success in the ease of doing business.

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