On Duplicity And Fake Grief (6th Update With Malacanang Reaction)
I decided to sleep over it, resisting the urge to rant over the New York Post report about this leader, Gloria Macapagal Arroying, ringing up a $20,000 tab at Big Apple’s top crust LeCirque (The Circle) Restaurant.
There was even this:
Picture Mrs. Arroyo in her group here:
Looking over this:
I should say, in the spirit of fairness, that this is a ‘theoretical tabulation’ based apparently on Le’Cirque’s bill o’fare’.
The actual menu items ordered by the presidential party said to number about 30-people could have differed.
I’ve been getting quite a lot of inquiries about the source of this menu image above. It was first posted my Manuel L. Quezon III in his blog.
I am in Manolo’s debt.
The occasion: wine-laced merry-making before flying home to Manila “to catch the funeral of former President Cory Aquino.”
The first thought that came to my mind was how duplicitous, how fake, the act was, with the outgoing Filipino President appearing to pray in front of Cory’s bier after coming just hours before from a $20,000 party after her White House meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama!
I’d rather not write the expletives which filled my mind following that realization.
How will Malacanang explain this?
Did Mrs. Arroyo pay the bill at Le Cirque from her own multi-millionaire pocket or were Filipino taxpayers the hosts for that party???
President Arroyo and her party-maker guests obviously have a liking for expensive wines and the food that go with it but was this at our expense???
Did they for a moment think about the grinding poverty millions of Filipinos live under or the grief enveloping Filipinos over Cory Aquino as they wined and dined???
Such crassness, such insensitivity.
Even New York’s leading gossip mag has picked up thestory on La Gloria’s indulgent bash:
Meanwhile over at his home blog New Philippine Revolution, my good friend Patricio Mangubat has posted a scathing analysis of that New York bash which took place against the backdrop of national grief at the death of Cory Aquino.
New details emerging as revealed by ABC 5’s Malacanang correspondent Jove Francisco:
The Le Cirque gathering was attended by “almost 30 lawmakers plus staff, family; some cabinet officials; GMA’s own people plus her FILUSA allies.”
Manolo Quezon, for his part, says Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, House Speaker Prospero Nograles, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, presidential adviser Heherson Alvarez, and Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo were with the President, too.
Further insight now comes from veteran journalist Greg Macabenta whom this writer considers an editor’s editor.
Writing in the on-line site Manila Mail, Manong Greg’s piece is titled Why Mice Walk With their head down:
Early into her presidency, there was always an advance party, complete with a media retinue, that announced her coming and made arrangements for royal receptions and special events, including interviews with the mainstream media.
But last weekend, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, head of state of the Philippines and the logical Mother Figure of millions of Pinoys in the USA was accorded the kind of reception that would have made Manny Pacquiao feel unloved.
Oh, yes, the Los Angeles FilAm papers dutifully reported that “500 cheering FilAms” met her on a weekend morning to listen to her template speech. Except that the writer let it slip that they were mostly from Pampanga, along with Ambassador Willie Gaa, Consul General Aragon and consular staff. There was also a “newly-organized” group called Fil-USA, purportedly established to spread the word about the accomplishments of the Arroyo administration. Needless to say, we’ve never heard of Fil-USA.
Even Ferdinand Marcos, at the height of his unpopularity, was met by large cheering crowds in New York and Washington DC, laboriously gathered and bused by then Ambassador Kokoy Romualdez and his troops at the embassy and the consular offices. Of course, an equally large gathering of “Steak Commandos,” as Raul Manglapus, Ninoy Aquino and their fellow exiles were derisively called, were also there to hiss and boo.
Greg CendeÃ±a made sure that the advance party, that included not just squadrons of media folks but also ad agency and PR agency heads, was in place a month ahead of the main presidential party. In fact, Kokoy even had the Leyte folk dance group tour the various states to generate excitement over the Apo’s coming.
And when Fidel V. Ramos came a-visiting as president, busloads of fans and admirers drove up to Los Angeles from all over California and nearby states. The LA coliseum was literally packed to the rafters.
Did Arroyo’s publicists gloat about “500 cheering FilAms” who turned out to greet Arroyo? In America, if all you have at a reception are 500 guests, your fund-raiser or induction or show, whichever event it might be, is considered so-so. To repeat: the kind of reception would make Manny Pacquiao feel unloved.
Even Erap Estrada, who was already gaining notoriety for his late night sessions in MalacaÃ±ang with his drinking buddies, packed the plush Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco when he came visiting as president.
Busloads of supporters met him at the airport and crowded the hotel lobby, unable to squeeze into the main reception area.
In fact, I recall Hollywood star Rob Scheinder, whose mother is Pinay, showing up at the Fairmont, uninvited, and asking to have the honor of meeting with Erap. According to him, he wanted to be of service to the Philippines.
But now comes Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, slipping into Los Angeles with very, very, very few people knowing about it. There was a virtual media blackout. The FilAm media in the San Francisco Bay Area had no inkling of her presence. There was an email sent out by a usually unreliable source to the effect that Arroyo and her husband were flying into LA.
Naturally, we paid no attention to the story, precisely because the fellow who spread the word is a known liar. As it turned out, he was telling the truth.
But why did Arroyo come and go like a will o’ the wisp, or like a ghost ship in the misty sea, or like a thief in the night? (Choose the appropriate expression).
Was she embarrassed? Was she feeling guilty for something? Was it because Mike Arroyo was with her, which made her walk with head down?
Frankly, as a Filipino citizen, I feel bad about this. Embarrassed, in fact. No matter how unpopular or corrupt a president might be, when she goes out on a foreign trip, she carries the colors of her country, much like a national sports team marching with pride with its country’s colors on the opening day of the Olympics.
For that reason, criticism of such a head of state, no matter how unpopular or corrupt, is withheld. There is an unwritten rule about declaring a ceasefire. Because if you insult the head of your country while she is abroad, you are literally spitting in the wind and the saliva flies back onto your face.
I was at the San Francisco Consulate last Saturday for two major community meetings organized by the PhilAm press club and concerned community leaders. Participants drove in from as far as Fresno to discuss the urgent topic on the agenda. Word had been spread a few days earlier and people came.
But there was not one single soul who knew that the president of the Republic of the Philippines was in Los Angeles. In fact, even the consular staff were not quite sure if Arroyo had come or had gone. The only thing they knew was that Willie Gaa was around the day before.
Whether he was going back to Washington DC from LA or was headed for LA, people were not sure.
The last time Arroyo packed an auditorium was early into her term as successor to a deposed Erap Estrada. The huge auditorium across the street from San Francisco City Hall was packed. Then Mayor Willie Brown of San Francisco and Governor Gray Davis of California, along with other important city and state dignitaries, were on hand to greet her. The most important members of the community, as well as business leaders were eager to have a photograph with her.
The contrast between that visit and her recent will o’ the wisp appearance could not be more stark. This is a president who is embarrassed to show herself to her overseas constituents. This is the leader of our Motherland, literally walking with her head down.
And why is she doing that?
Ask the mice.
Finally Malacanang last night finally broke its silence over the brouhaha which is boiling over in both the mainstream press and the blogosphere.
But unless the Palace by the Pasig gets a better handle on this the PR quicksand it has found itself in could become political.
Here’s what Press Secretary Cerge Remonde is saying:
It was Congressman Martin Romualdez who invited the First Couple to dinner at Le Cirque in New York. As to how much the dinner costs, Malacañang does not know as it was the host who chose the menu and picked up the tab. There was no partying. Just dinner pure and simple.
Rep Romualdez’s generosity itself, assuming Remoonde is telling the truth, stretches credulity.
The congressman, who is by the way a nephew of Imelda Marcos, hosting the Philippines First Couple and their retinue but then himself decising what food and drinks to order!!!
For the good press secretary to dismiss public criticism by saying “There was no partying. Just dinner pure and simple,” validates the impression that malacanang is insensitive to the criticism over the incident.
He is telling us it was okay to blow $20 K on a dinner as long as there was no merry making!!!???
Get a grip, my old friend.
Here’s how the Inquirer is recapping the brouhaha:
I was really going to loop off this story this Monday, having shared Malacanang’s reaction.
Press Secretary Remonde is saying this:
We will ask the deputy executive secretary for finance and administration to release this week a financial statement on all expenses for the visit.
The report was grossly exaggerated, really exaggerated. That’s what you call agitation propaganda to anger the people.“[Bagong Alyansang Makabayan ] will never cease from spreading agitation propaganda against the administration of President Arroyo or any administration for that matter for as long as that administration is not headed by a communist president.
(Contrary to the New York Post report) the dinner was a “simple” one, and had been hosted by Leyte Representative Martin Romualdez. What we had in New York was a simple, late night dinner because it was already late at night when we arrived there from Washington DC and of course, we were all hungry.
Our group settled only in two tables and ordered a “set” meal consisting of soup, salad, main course, drinks, and coffee or tea. There was no truth to the report that many different types of champagne and fancy food items were ordered.
The latest personality to take the cudgels for the presidential dinner delegation is Congressman Danilo Suarez of Quezon province:
I don’t know why they are making such a big deal, it’s New York where everything is more expensive than Manila. We were more than 50 in our group, the President’s security and the secret service joined us. We had been invited for dinner by Rep. Ferdinand Romualdez’s brother, a well-established architect in New York who lives at the Hamptons but the summer resort’s yacht club but it was full.
We decided to move instead to Le Cirque. There is nothing to apologize for the dinner because I would have done the same since it was meant to celebrate the wedding anniversary of the First Couple.
I planned to do the same, maybe next time.
For the good press secretary Remonde to insert the communist bogey into the debate is nothing but obfuscation.
Malacanang is obviously squirming, nay, flailing away at the messengers rather than owning up to its callousness.
As for Representative Suarez, moron is too kind a label.
This update comes in the wake of the phone interview Press Secretary Cerge Remonde had several minutes back with Anthony Taberna of ABS-CBN.
Mr. Remonde bristled as he lambasted those he said “are making these exaggerated and unfair reports without knowing the truth.
He restated Malacanang earlier assertion that the event at Le Cirque “was just a simple dinner where we had a set menu and none of the reported caviar or expensive wines.”
I honestly want to take his word for it having known Cerge from waye back the early 90’s, 1991 to be precise, when we traveled to the U.S. together as fellows of the U.S. International Visitors Programs.
But I am struck by his parting shot:
Alangan naman pakainin natin si Presidente sa isa doon na hotdog stand sa New York.
I consider Secretary Cerge a professional journalist who holds to the highest ethical standards.
Having said this, let me share the statement made by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago about that dinner event:
“(It’s) outlandish that people from a developing country should rack up a bill for P1 million. It is too excessive for the circumstances of the country. Nagulat ako… dahil sa napakamahal na restaurant. Mahal na nga ang lahat sa New York, dun pa sa isa sa pinakamahal. Di dapat yun ang piniling lugar, kundi mas mura-mura naman. (I was surprised that the dinner was held there. Everything is expensive in New York, but they had the dinner at one of the most expensive restaurants. They should have chosen a cheaper place instead.) While the delegation was having the dinner at the plush restaurant, I had dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. “Ten dollars ($10) lang, may kanin na, may ulam ka pa (For only $10, you can already get a meal with rice and viand). Part of the $20,000 bill “is really the prestige and for the privilege of seeing and being seen. Ayaw ko ng ganoon. I feel very uncomfortable, di ako mahilig magmake-up, mag-jewelry pa ako (I don’t like that. I feel very uncomfortable wearing make-up and jewelry) . Masungit na ako pag sa oras na ganiyan eh (I’ll get cranky by that time). Si Senator Lito sabi niya, grabe naman itong restaurant na eto, katagal tagal dumating ng order (He said, ‘This is too much…it takes too long for the food to come). Lapid pointed out to protocol officers that it took time to serve the meal because waiters would change plates and silverware every course. That’s why he did not like the French restaurant.
The was the remark of Sen. Santiago in a talk with DZBB radio yesterday.
Today she tempered her view of the event:
I don’t think that we should make a big fuss out of it.
It was a mistake in good faith; nobody walks deliberately into a trap. It was a trap borne by circumstances. It could have been avoided but it wasn’t, so we should just accept our mistakes.
It is true that $20,000 in New York is not very much with the standards of the rich and famous there, but in a developing country like the Philippines, that is a whole big political universe by itself: one million pesos.
I leave it to the public to reflect on what lessons can and should be drawn from this episode.