[PHOTO AT LEFT -  Families stage a protest during a feeding program in Caloocan City last Saturday, assailing the spending of President Arroyo during her recent visit to the US. Jonjon Vicencio MANILA, Philippines]

MANILA, AUGUST 18, 2009 (PHILIPPINE STAR) The Philippine Consulate General to New York belied reports yesterday that their funds were used to pay for expenses of President Arroyo’s recent visit to the United States.

In a statement, Philippine Consul General Cecilia Rebong said the report that “the use of the consulate general’s fund for the dinner at the French Le Cirque restaurant would cause possible delay in the payment of salaries of consulate personnel” is untrue.

“The funds allocated by the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Consulate General in New York are never used to pay for expenses related to official/working visits of the President,” Rebong said.

She added that the consulate funds were not used to pay for hotel accommodation, transportation, meals, or any expenses related to the recent New York visit of the President.

“More importantly, nobody from the Consulate in New York contacted any media agency in Manila about this matter and therefore, all these allegations supposedly coming from a consulate staff are false,” Rebong said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo was mum on the lavish New York City dinner to celebrate the First Couple’s wedding anniversary.

Romulo, who reportedly attended the dinner at the Le Cirque, evaded question about the lavish meal as he pointed to Press Secretary Cerge Remonde as the one who would answer questions about the dinner at the expensive French restaurant. – Pia Lee-Brago

Congressmen want to charge taxpayers for US trip By Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) Updated August 18, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Some of the more than 28 congressmen who accompanied President Arroyo on her recent working visit to the United States are willing after all to repay Malacañang for their trip – but using taxpayers’ money.

Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr., one of those who joined the presidential entourage, said yesterday he would reimburse the Palace if he was asked to, but added he would use the travel funds he is getting from the House of Representatives for such reimbursement.

“You see, congressmen get about P1 million a year in travel funds from the House,” he told radio station dzMM.

He said he is not ashamed to use taxpayers’ money for his first trip with Mrs. Arroyo “because it really was worth it.”

“I worked during the visit. I attended counterpart US congressional conferences and meetings with members of Filipino-American communities. I can defend my decision to use my travel funds,” he said.

Abante, who is an evangelical bishop, said he was just being truthful about the fact that he did not pay a single centavo for his US trip and that he would use taxpayers’ money in reimbursing Malacañang if asked to.

Speaker Prospero Nograles, who led the large House delegation that accompanied the President, has reportedly asked his colleagues to pay for their trip.

The delegation included five newly proclaimed party-list representatives, one of whom left with the presidential party on his first working day.

Before leaving for the US, Nograles and his colleagues announced that they would be using personal funds.

Last Thursday, Abante told the Serye Café news forum in Quezon City that “I don’t know who paid for the plane fare, hotel accommodation and other expenses. I did not ask.”

He said since it was Malacañang that invited him to join the President, he assumed that it was the Palace that shouldered his and his colleagues’ expenses.

Asked whether his colleagues paid for their expenses, Abante said, “If I did not pay, I supposed that they, too, did not pay.”

He revealed that they were billeted at the expensive Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, where former First Lady Imelda Marcos used to stay, and at the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel in Washington.

According to newspaper reports, Mrs. Arroyo’s party occupied at least 60 rooms at Waldorf and Willard. An ordinary room at Waldorf reportedly costs $950 a night. Mrs. Arroyo was said to have occupied a $3,500-a-night suite.

At the Serye forum, Abante urged Mrs. Arroyo to account for all the expenses incurred in her US trip and not hide behind her spokesmen and election lawyer.

“After all, she’s the one accountable for this,” he said.

The President’s US visit was overshadowed by the death of former President Corazon Aquino and has become controversial due to at least two expensive dinners Mrs. Arroyo and her entourage enjoyed in New York and Washington.

Her spokesman claimed it was Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez who paid $20,000 for a dinner at the French restaurant Le Cirque in New York City, while Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez professed he paid $15,000 for steaks and lobsters at a Washington steakhouse.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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