MANILA,  September 14, 2004
Forget about the candles and the fine pieces of china.

Dinner will be served in Styrofoam when President Arroyo meets the top executives of government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) at Malacañang tomorrow.

At least it’s better than just having tea.

The dinner in Styrofoam is the latest austerity gimmick cooked up by Malacañang after Mrs. Arroyo instituted the "no merienda" rule, which limited Palace guests to servings of coffee and tea.

Speaking over the government-run Radyo ng Bayan yesterday, Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo disclosed that Mrs. Arroyo summoned the top executives of all GOCCs to a meeting on the government-wide austerity directives she had issued.

Saludo told the executives not to expect any five-star hotel treatment during their meeting with the President Wednesday night. He even warned them to be prepared to eat their dinner in Styrofoam.

Saludo did not say if he was merely cracking a joke in his response to the suggestion that the executives might as well bring along sandwiches as "baon" in case they get hungry during their meeting with the President.

"I think there will be a dinner a la carte, not the usual buffet. It would be in Styrofoam already. That is how austere we want to be," he said.

But the latest austerity measure has led to speculation that the President will tell the GOCC heads to take pay cuts amid criticism of the high salaries and benefits the executives enjoy.

Saludo said the President called for the meeting with the GOCC executives to impress on them the need for belt-tightening coupled with the need to raise revenue to help the deficit-strapped government.

Losses from the GOCCs, led by the National Power Corp. (Napocor), have been identified as the source of a large part of the country’s P5.4-trillion public sector debt.

Saludo said Mrs. Arroyo has signed Administrative Order 103, "Directing the Continued Adoption of Austerity Measures in the Government," on Aug. 31. The AO is supposed to take effect after publication in two newspapers of nationwide circulation.

Aside from the GOCCs, the austerity directive applies "to all national government agencies, including state universities and colleges, government financial institutions, and other government corporate entities and their subsidiaries and other instrumentalities under the Executive Department, whether or not they receive funding support through the General Appropriations Act."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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