, September 30 2005
 (STAR) By Jess Diaz - Talk about austerity.

Seven Filipino diplomats abroad are reportedly renting spacious apartments for at least $10,000 a month each, courtesy of Filipino taxpayers.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Franklin Ebdalin made this revelation yesterday in the course of a hearing by the House appropriations committee on the Department of Foreign Affairs’ proposed P5.2-billion budget for 2006. The disclosure was prompted by a query posed by Cavite Rep. Gilbert Remulla.

Remulla was asking about the case of Consul General Cecilia Rebong, posted in New York City, who was recently reported to be renting a condominium unit for $10,000 a month at the Trump Tower just across the United Nations headquarters. The condominium was built by famous casino and real estate tycoon Donald Trump.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo confirmed the report. "That’s correct, your honor, it was a collegial decision. The request was made and this was approved by the department," he told Remulla.

Adding to Romulo’s reply, Ebdalin said, "The amount that we pay in New York is comparable to rentals in, for instance, Los Angeles (in California), which is $10,500 a month; in Berlin (Germany), $11,000; Paris (France), $11,000; Rome (Italy), $10,000; Seoul (South Korea), $10,000; and Vienna (Austria), $10,000."

"New York is an expensive city, and considering the stature of our consul general, also in the light of security problems, we thought we’ll give her a place where she could represent the country well and which is also safe," he said.

Remulla thanked Ebdalin for making the revelation, noting that the seven diplomats are spending a total of $72,500 or more than P4.1 million a month or P49.2 million a year in rentals.

"We can do a lot with that money," Remulla said. "We can build cheap houses for the poor or classrooms for our schoolchildren. I find it morally incorrect to spend such huge sums for renting luxurious apartment or condominium units. I am sure that we can find cheaper but comfortable and presentable accommodations for our diplomats."

Romulo said in the case of Rebong, she would soon transfer to one of the floors of the four-story residence on 66th Street in New York City of Ambassador Lauro Baja, the country’s permanent representative to the UN.

Baja’s residence is government property. It was there where Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. and wife Gina stayed during the Speaker’s recent visit to New York to push for his debt-relief proposal in the UN. It was acquired during the Ferdinand Marcos administration by former first lady Imelda Marcos for the government, together with the five or six-story Philippine Center on 5th Avenue, not far from the UN headquarters.

Remulla, a former ABS-CBN broadcaster, said he had lived for two years in New York, where he obtained a master’s degree in developmental journalism from Columbia University.

He said he was sure Rebong could find a decent place at half or less the cost taxpayers are paying for her Trump Tower unit.

He said that if Rebong needed a larger place to entertain colleagues in the diplomatic community, she could use one floor or several floors of the Philippine Center, where she holds office.

Ebdalin did not name the diplomats in the other cities where he said the government is spending for their expensive apartments.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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