AUSTERITY  WOES:  HONG KONG  MAIDS  ANGRY,  PARTY  OFFICIALS  GRUMBLING

MANILA,  September 2
, 2004 (STAR) Measures to reduce government expenses are being greeted with frustration, if not outright anger, by sectors at the receiving end of the Arroyo administration’s austerity campaign.

In Hong Kong, Filipino domestic helpers have expressed anger over a proposal to close the Philippine consulate on Sundays, the only free day for many of them.

Hong Kong’s thousands of Filipino maids work six days a week, and they viewed as a major victory the opening of the consulate on Sundays two years ago.

The proposal has been criticized as "outrageous" by Vicky Casia-Cabantac of the Migrante Sectoral Party.

In Beijing, members and officials of the advance party for President Arroyo’s three-day state visit to China were overheard grumbling over reductions in their allowances.

The cuts affected the per diems and foreign travel allowances of the government personnel.

An informal survey by The STAR showed that the per diem of members of the President’s advance party had been cut by half, from $100 to $46 per day, while the daily allowance for hotel, food and transportation was cut from $300 to $200.

One undersecretary reportedly received $800 for four days, including food allowance, per diem and hotel accommodations. Another undersecretary received $58 per diem.

Since her trip to China had been upgraded to a state visit, the Chinese government will pay for the expenses of Mrs. Arroyo’s official party during the duration of her stay, including inland travel, hotel accommodation and food.

Not covered by the host country subsidy was the plane fare from Manila. The President and her official party flew to Beijing aboard a chartered Philippine Airlines flight. Had her party taken a commercial flight, the Chinese government would have paid for her plane fare.

Among the members of Mrs. Arroyo’s official party billeted at Beijing’s State Guest House were husband Jose Miguel Arroyo, eldest son and Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo, brother-in-law and Bacolod Rep. Ignacio Arroyo, Speaker Jose de Venecia, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, Trade Secretary Cesar Purisima, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, Energy Secretary Vicente Perez, and outgoing Tourism Secretary Roberto Pagdanganan.

Also included in the official party was Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., who has been vocal in his criticism of the administration’s decision to cut down the internal revenue allotment (IRA) of local government units.

Other Philippine officials and members of a delegation of business leaders, who will be paying for their own expenses, were billeted at the Kerry Center and other hotels.

Government and private media, whose expenses are being shouldered by their organizations, were billeted at $75 per day at the Gloria Plaza Hotel on Jianguomennan Avenue.

But the communication needs of the media, as well as members of the official delegation, would be shouldered by the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., which has been the official telecommunications carrier of all presidential trips since the time of former President Corazon Aquino. — With Marichu Villanueva


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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