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Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, The Travelling President

August 19, 2009


This post is actually my way of sharing the latest online analysis of a lady I admire with a passion: former Economic  Planning Sectetary (NEDA Director-General) Solita Collas-Monsod, the good wife of equally respected former COMELEC Chairman Christian Monsod ( mom and dad of youthful economist Toby Monsod).

Here’s her piece, with due credits to her, and GMA Network News:

President Gloria Arroyo has left the country around 72 times since she assumed the presidency in 2001. That’s an average of 8 trips a year.

She in fact has spent almost ten percent of her time abroad, because out of the 3,125 days she has been in office as of August 11, at least 310 days have been spent out of the country.
During this time, she visited 40 foreign countries, 21 of them at least twice and has managed to visit the United States at least once a year.

Actually, she has visited the US a total of 15 times in the past 8 and a half years.

As with practically everything else she does, her peripatetic tendency has been criticized – with her critics wondering why, when the country is pressed for financial resources, so much of the Filipino taxpayers’ money is being used for what is considered an unnecessary expense.

The countries the President has visited are either our major trading and investment partners, major oil suppliers, major employers of our overseas Filipino workers, and major sources of foreign assistance or some combination of the above.

And generally, the more important the country in these categories, the larger the number of visits: the US has been visited 15 times (although attending the UN General Assembly in New York is one of the reasons why), China 9 times, Japan 7 times, and the major ASEAN member countries anywhere from three to five times.

Could she have done this with virtual visits? Yes. Certainly, but it would not be as effective as pressing flesh, as it were.

Nothing like a warm, personal relationship that allows you to then pick up the phone and call your foreign counterpart to ask a favor or the head of a large corporation to invite it to set up shop in the Philippines.

What benefits have been reaped from these visits?

It’s really hard to estimate the marginal benefits that arise from her trips abroad, or distinguish them from what would have occurred anyway.

I do not doubt, however, that the expected reduction in overseas employment as a result of the global crisis did not come to pass partially because of the President’s visits.

And, certainly, the release or pardon of Filipino workers in jail in those countries has to be attributed to the personal diplomacy she exercised. Let us give credit where it is due.

Having listed the benefits, now let us focus on the costs.

And this is where the criticism against the President’s trips do have basis.

We have data on the expenditures of the Office of the President on foreign travel from 2002 up to 2007.

What can we glean from these data?

In terms of US dollars, which we use to remove the influence of changes in exchange rates, the cost per day of the President’s trips rose by almost six times in that five-year period.

From $45,880 per day in 2002 to $255,600 in 2007.

That horrendous increase cannot be attributed to inflation – hotel and airline and food prices in dollar terms cannot have increased by more than 20 percent in that period and certainly not by 600 percent.

So the only explanation is that a size of her official entourage must have increased tremendously, or that their per diems must have gone up enormously, or both. Now, that is totally unnecessary.

In other words, even if she did not pay for that $20,000 dinner in Le Cirque in New York, and I am morally certain she did not pay for it, she still has a lot of explaining to do.

$45,000 to $250,000 per day in five years. Excuse me.

Bottom line? Continue the trips, but cut down on the expenses. How? Don’t use it for rewarding political favors or in exchange for them.

In the future, I think the President should report not only the benefits that these visits bring, but also within two weeks, the cost that they entail – so that the Filipino people, who are not dumb, can judge for themselves whether these trips are worth it.

Let me close by making note of Dr. Monsod’s key observation:

In the 3,125 days she has been in office as of August 11, at least 310 days or about 10% has been spent abroad.

Quite a jetsetter, indeed, Mrs. Arroyo (and her hangers-on) are, don’t you think?

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