My heart seemed to stop when I heard about the controversial lavish dinners that Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her entourage indulged in during their July 30 visit to the United States. At New York City’s Le Cirque Restaurant and Washington DC’s Bobby Van’s Steakhouse, the group spent $20,000 and $15,000 respectively. Amid the hunger and poverty of the Filipino people, and an economic recession that has left 400,000 Americans without jobs, this extravagance is sheer callousness.
In today’s economic meltdown, developing countries like the Philippines are among the worst hit. Everyday, thousands of Filipinos—most of whom are women—find themselves without jobs. Factories and small enterprises are closing down. The Philippines ranked fifth among the hungry countries in the world. Four million Filipino children are malnourished, and 52 million out of 92 million Filipinos are hungry everyday. Despite job retrenchment abroad, more Filipino women must go overseas to find employment.
When Philippine President Arroyo and her cohorts dined and wined lavishly, millions of Filipino children back home were dying from lack of food. The President ate at the cost of hard-earned taxpayer’s money with no remorse. This controversial dinner sparked outrage among Filipinos both domestically and abroad.
In defense of President Arroyo, the Palace spokesperson said that compared to the billions of dollars the country the president’s travel abroad generated, the cost of the dinners was nothing. Among those cited were the $6.2 billion in investments and other forms of financial assistance, as well as US military assistance and aid for Mindanao.
What an arrogance and desperate move to justify such an act of indecency! Reality shows that the benefits from the President’s foreign trips are hardly felt by the Filipino people. Enforced exorbitant taxes among the poor cater to the whims and caprices of corrupt government bureaucrats. German-based Transparency International in its annual CPU index ranked the Philippines as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Just recently, a woman Philippine Navy Junior Officer Lieutenant Senior Grade Nancy Gadian revealed a multi-million corruption in the Joint Philippine–US Military War Exercises in 2007.
Mrs. Arroyo’s trip to the US cost the taxpayers a total of P 37 million. Yet, the people did not gain anything. Arroyo’s US visit only furthered the government’s bankruptcy and subservience to US loans and aids. The 45-minute talk between US President Obama and Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo highlighted Arroyo’s appointment as the regional coordinator of the US War on Terror in ASEAN countries. Obama praised Arroyo’s accomplishment in her counter-terror efforts, including her statement on Burma human rights abuses.
There was no mention of American soldiers who continue to be stationed in the Philippines, and their direct participation in combat operations. There was no mention of continued human rights violations and abuses in the Philippines committed by Arroyo’s government. President Arroyo’s lavish dinner was a celebration of renewed ties of unequal foreign relations between the post-colonial slave and post-colonial master.
The Filipino women’s movement, together with other movements here and abroad, must protest against corruption, arrogant displays of power, extravagance, and puppetry in times of immense hunger and poverty. We have to demand accountability for government abuses of power and corrupt practices. We must demand investigation of President Arroyo’s travel expenses. Public awareness must be launched extensively to develop strong public opinion against corrupt government practices. Community-based graft watch networks must be organized and women must take active involvement. Monitoring and filing of cases must be done as deterrence for further government anomalies.
We must continue to fight against tyranny, dictatorship, and colonialism. We must not forget the darkest years of our history and the men and women martyrs who sacrificed their lives for us and for our freedom. Let our hearts continue beating in unison with the fire of love and freedom.