NEW YORK CITY, September 15, 2005
(STAR) Malacañang yesterday defended the inclusion of 50 members of the House of Representatives as part of President Arroyo’s delegation to the US for the United Nations World Summit.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said in a press briefing before the Philippine mission in this city that the lawmakers and local executives were here to attend the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) meeting and the UN conference, not enjoying a "junket" or "reward" trip for their loyalty to the President during a crucial House vote on impeachment charges.

"What we know is that there is an IPU meeting here and many of them are going there," Bunye said in Filipino.

House members who are here also attended the Inter-Faith Dialogue along with Speaker Jose de Venecia, who actively pushed for the dialogue.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, who was with the President at the UN summit, said Mrs. Arroyo may use the UN as a stage from which she will send a conciliatory message to her political foes and answer possible queries regarding the vote in the House, which led to the junking of the impeachment complaint against her two weeks ago.

Romulo said he is also prepared to answer questions about the political developments in the Philippines if asked by his counterparts and world leaders as the Philippines takes center stage by assuming the presidency of the UN Security Council.

Meanwhile, in Manila, House Majority Leader Prospero Nograles defended his colleagues who accompanied the President to the US.

"They are on their own time and expense," Nograles said of his colleagues who are now in New York. "No funds from the House or the Palace (were used in funding their travel expenses). It’s our break. They deserve a rest and vacation, too."

Tarlac Rep. Jesli Lapus, one of the seven congressmen earlier named by The STAR as part of the President’s entourage in New York, is actually in Manila, where he celebrated his birthday on Sept. 12.

Members of the House minority criticized their colleagues’ "junket," saying the foreign trip was meant as "payback" for members of the majority bloc who voted to dismiss the charges against the President.

"I think this is part of the payback, because they voted yes to the justice committee report" junking the impeachment complaint against the President, House Deputy Minority Leader Rolex Suplico said.

Nograles countered Suplico’s statement though, saying, "Of course (Suplico) wants to sow intrigues. But there is no payback for a conscience vote not to impeach. It’s a party stand to support the President.

"We can also ask (of the opposition): What rewards do you get if you succeed to impeach (the President)? Who will pay back? Erap (ousted former President Joseph Estrada)? Ping (opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson)? (Former President) Cory (Aquino)? The Hyatt 10? Bro. Eddie (Villanueva)? (Senate President Franklin) Drilon? (Sen. Manuel) Villar? It’s really unfair to impute," Nograles shot back.

House Minority Leader Francis Escudero said the President is running true to form by wasting millions of pesos in taxpayers’ money despite unabated price hikes.

"It was really a waste of money," Escudero said. "I thought it was time for austerity measures. It seems like (the President) is back to her usual self again after weathering the impeachment." — With Delon Porcalla

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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