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Aug 10

The Long View: Detached from reality

The Long View
Detached from reality
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:41:00 08/10/2009

A joke going around goes like this. Why did the President’s husband stay behind in the USA even as the President “rushed” home to make it to Cory’s wake? Answer: he has to wash the dishes at Le Cirque after he tried to pay for the dinner with Martin Romualdez’s credit card.

What should be the appropriate context for evaluating whether the public response to that revelation of a $20,000 dinner for the President and her hangers-on reflects a genuine issue, or simply the deep dislike most people seem to have for our chief executive and most of officialdom?

The first is the public expectation that our presidents must “show the flag,” and that means even if we’re a poor country, our chief executives as head of state are accorded the widest latitude in asserting their status because it’s also an assertion of our existence as a sovereign nation. For that reason, the President’s staying at the Waldorf-Astoria raised few eyebrows, not least because as a hotel used to handling heads of state, billeting the President there makes some sense.

But if this is so, why then should a meal at New York’s Le Cirque kick up such a fuss? The primary reason seems to be the contrast between the President and her party enjoying themselves while her countrymen lined up hours in the heat and the rain to pay tribute and express grief and appreciation for one of her predecessors, during a period of national mourning proclaimed by the President herself.

I think we are a reasonable people and I’ve seen many reasonable reactions among those expressing criticism of the President’s anniversary dinner. Quite a few pointed out that had the President been able to point to some reason of state – a dinner for the purpose of courting foreign investments, for example, or to secure diplomatic support for a Philippine initiative – the country might’ve written the dinner off as a justifiable case of official lobbying.

But it was a purely personal occasion celebrated among fair-weather friends; and again, quite a few pointed out that had the President eaten at the same place with her husband and children the country might have been inclined to respect their desire for a treat to mark a personal milestone in the First Family’s lives. Instead the whole kit and caboodle dined out, when there has been sustained public criticism on the composition of the President’s official party to begin with as excessively large.

It was also the manner in which the President’s anniversary bash came to public attention that immediately imbued it with rather unsavory connotations of subterfuge the Palace can’t shake off, even if Representative Romualdez has taken the bullet for the President (and the Cebu businessman whom some quarters believe actually footed the bill). It only served to underscore the contrast between the public expressions of sympathy by the President and the hesitant, even bumbling, manner officialdom – beginning with the President herself -actually responded to Cory’s death.

There was the ineptly edited tape sent by the Palace to TV stations showing the President breaking out into a big smile after concluding her public statement on Cory’s passing.

There was Cerge Remonde saying the President would cut short her trip, but not short enough that what she’d scheduled as a wedding anniversary Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral was passed off as a memorial Mass for Cory; the gesture being proven hollow again, by the subsequent revelation of the anniversary dinner.

And, even before the dinner was trumpeted in the New York Post’s infamous Page Six, Remonde, taking pains to say the President was skipping an original side trip to Guam, and head straight for Manila to make it to the wake, couldn’t shrug off strong suggestions from Filipino-Americans themselves for the President to get on the first available plane right after the St. Patrick’s Mass.

Remonde said President Arroyo could have flown anytime she wished had she been on a chartered flight, but she was going on a commercial flight to save money. So, instead of New York-Manila, she went New York-Los Angeles where she skulked around, without the Filipino community in the area, according to Greg Macabenta, even knowing about it.

A case of presidential paralysis due to overanalysis over the consequences of Cory’s death? Or sheer ambivalence? You do the math: blogger Market Manila pointed out the President must have known Cory died by 4 p.m., yet after her subsequent meeting with Hillary Clinton, it took a Filipino reporter to inform Clinton that Cory had died – the President had apparently considered it too unimportant to mention. And the “rushing home” trumpeted by Remonde was truly at a snail’s pace: Aug. 2-3 in New York; Aug. 3-4 in Los Angeles; a photo finish arrival for the last hours of the wake, when the President could’ve been home at least a full day earlier.

It’s important to point these things out because the public noticed the President’s insecurity and how her officials shared that insecurity, setting them apart from the rest of a country united in commemoration and sadness. Just as it noticed Ambassador Lagdameo studiously downplaying the importance of Cory during a stint as a guest on the BBC.

And just as it noticed the government stations trying to pretend there wasn’t a massive public tribute to Cory going on, and choosing to broadcast the President’s speeches instead. And how, when the President finally appeared at the Cathedral, an NBN announcer breathlessly cooed, “It was amazing, the grace under pressure of our president, to go to the funeral despite jet lag and a busy schedule.”

There’s the problem right there. Could it have been different if the public had been informed of an anniversary dinner in the first place? Probably not; the disconnect was obvious from the start.

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  1. The EQualizer

    Remember this line? “Even I have Missed One Meal In The Last 3 Months!” Gloria Arroyo (Actual Quote).This was right after the SWS’ involuntary hunger survey last year.

    She must have been that hungry to rush to Le Cirque!

  2. PJ

    Looking at the menu list of what they ravaged I don’t think people will ever understand or see the justification…. it was a display of uncouth crass barbarian like behavior treating a fine dining place like it was a pig out drinking binge dirty kitchen. That was precisely why they were noticed by a gossip columnist looking for the absurd and scandalous and she and her party really fit the bill no not the US$ 20K they have to fork out but as a good subject for ridicule.

  3. mlq3

    that list is not what they actually ate, it’s an experiment -an attempt to see how you could run up such a tab, PJ.

  4. PJ

    ahhh so that means they then went on a drinking binge…..

  5. J_AG

    In NY there are places for the movers and shakers of society to be seen dining in so called power lunches or dinners.

    Le Cirque, The Four Seasons, Club 21 and some others are noteworthy. it cements ones position in the food chain to speak.

    Most especially in the U.S. where ones zip code designates your position on the totem pole.

  6. Starshadow Rivaulx

    The news item that Malacanang was not going to sue the NY Post made me burst out laughing in disbelief. As mentioned above, Le Cirque is a place to “see and be seen”, and it beggars belief that you can sit a party that big (some 30 people, wasn’t it?) – head of state or not – and not be mentioned in the NY society pages (or tabloids, as the case may be)!

    Remonde’s statement about not being able to rush home because of commercial flight schedules also strains my suspension of disbelief. A US-based friend of mine, whose mom died on Aug 1, managed to get to the Philippines by Aug 3. This without a staff to smooth the way in the matter of buying tickets and handling airport courtesies; a staff that could make sure their boss had immediate connections from NYC-LAX-MNL. (And if GMA was entitled to police escorts from the Waldorf to NYC La Guardia, I’m not entirely sure one could pin the blame on NYC’s traffic for any delay getting on the flight.)

    On the other hand, one could argue that my friend didn’t have meetings with the US President and Secretary of State, but still, if the President wanted to be back that urgently, that would have been the job of her staff, to make it happen.

    Rant over. Back to the normal commentary. 🙂

  7. BrianB

    Manolo by “disconnect” you only mean not being on the same page with the rest of the country, and not the broader socio-cultural disconnect?

  8. rudi freude

    @BrianB:

    Personally, I think the “disconnect” of this administration is from good judgment, common sense, and basic decency.

  9. Mike H

    EllenTordesillas reported that GMA-and-party paid the $20,000 in cash. Wow!!!

  10. SoP

    “The first is the public expectation that our presidents…are accorded the widest latitude in asserting their status because it’s also an assertion of our existence as a sovereign nation.”

    Evo Morales went on a whirlwind tour of Spain, South Africa, China, and France wearing the same acrylic sweater but didn’t hurt his or Bolivia’s image one bit. In fact, I think it enhanced it. So I don’t agree with this assertion. Actually I think he wore a leather jacket, like a villain straight out of a Philippine action movie, when he met Jacques Chirac. I’ve never seen a cooler president before or since.

  11. SoP

    And what of the results of his eschewing sovereignty assertion by status? Money, aid, and debt repudiation:

    http(colon)//en(dot)wikipedia(dot)org/wiki/Foreign_policy_of_Evo_Morales#Timeline_of_Morales_World_tour

  12. BrianB

    SoP,

    GMA has self-esteem issues, it’s obvious. The breast implants, FG having an affair, the constant criticism in media, the personal attacks by citizens.

  13. Tomastabak

    $20,000 for a 41- year wedding anniversary for a First Couple that hosted 30 people in New York City, that’s a reasonable price my man.

    Just to show how low you folks in print media have gotten, I wouldn’t be surprise if you would be printing the turds these folks excreted having eaten that meal.

    As for the travel back to the Philippines, let’s face it folks. Who is Cory to President Arroyo. Cory wanted to shame this sitting president in front of the whole nation. If I was President Arroyo under those circumstances, I too would take my sweet time.

    Mayor Binay stop beating on this dead horse. Eight months na lang. If you want to be the next president of the Philippines and I hope you do. Start honing your “sa amin sa Makati” approach until it resonates with the Filipino people.

  14. SoP

    “A case of presidential paralysis due to overanalysis over the consequences of Cory’s death? ”

    I can only imagine a conversation between GMA and Lapid:
    GMA: Tanaydana mete ne y Cory
    Lapid: Buguk. Tutu?
    GMA: Wa.
    Lapid: Nang gawan tamu? Muli ta na?
    GMA: Buri keng akit ing Gold Gate Bridge.
    Lapid: Aku Disneyland.
    GMA: E naman siguru makarineng mag-excursion potang kematen neh?
    Lapid: Ali bolang makarine.
    GMA: A balu ku na. Kunwari magtipid ku kaya kinangwa kung konekting playt. At least dumalan ya ing eruplanu keng Golden Gate neh?
    Lapid: Tang e ya lumabas?
    GMA: At least akit ke in U.S. manibat NY anggang LA keng awang na ning eruplanu.
    Lapid: Loko Gloria ka cheap mo neh!
    GMA: O ika nang gawan mu?
    Lapid: Muli naku.
    GMA: Bwisit la talaga dening Pilipinu. Asno kapakialam.

  15. UP n grad

    The heavens still smile on GMA.

    Had this Le Cirque happened in January 2010 (after the Christmas holidays and super-really close to her leaving Malacanang), the torrent wave where every “moderate-the-greed” plus “I have family to feed” turning against her may result in a Talsik-Diyan. “Wala nang pakinabang” is the reward for the incumbent who manages to prove that “follow-1987-Constitution” is what Mang Tasio and Aling Ping want, not hakot-the-crowds for PeoplePower-seven.

    But seriously, GMA showed lack of judgment. I think (in addition to an anniversary celebration) GMA wanted to impress Lito Lapid that she/GMA can outspend Erap any which way to a FAMAS award. But buying $800 bottle of champagne does not cut it, a masseuse visit would have been magic. And if that’s out of bounds, then round after round of single-malt scotch interrupted by a bring-on-a-heart-attack juicy steak (not Alsatian-recipe buttered-up tilapia with 12 string beans) was the better. And if GMA wanted bubbly, sweeter-tasting Italian spumante or Spanish cava would have been more enjoyable to her guests, to be followed by tiramisu or some decadent chocolate. To wrap up a dinner, sweets are more appropriate than moldy cheese. And maybe, just maybe, a certified-with-the-US-marine logo 9-mm Beretta for Lito — the perfect gift for a macho dude.

    The Le Cirque event shows the irrelevance of what GMA knows about economics. Pinas politics ain’t there yet! That she does not know how to deal with the Lito Lapids of Pinas is serious, proof that it is time for GMA, definitely, to leave Malacanang to another president.

    The question is — is it a priest, a mechanical engineer, an accountant grunt now a billionaire or a Jamby (Mar Roxas??? no chance) who has the pulse of the common tao? May-2010 will reveal the answer to this question. LameDuck GMA will have to watch what Barack Obama and Ambassador Kinney applauds — a peaceful transition of government.

  16. Bert

    “(Mar Roxas??? no chance)”-UP n

    No chance sigurado. Paano naman, heavy drama ang kanyang patalastas sa TV, hindi naman convincing, heheh.

  17. leytenian

    “Malacanang was not going to sue the NY Post made me burst out laughing in disbelief”

    what would be malacanang’s defense against the New york Post. Malacanang has violated the rule of law.

    REPUBLIC ACT NO. 6713: Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees

    Violation of the Rule of Law

    1. Receiving any gift” includes the act of accepting directly or indirectly, a gift from a person other than a member of his family or relative as defined in this Act, even on the occasion of a family celebration or national festivity like Christmas, if the value of the gift is neither nominal nor insignificant. ( assuming it was not the people’s money remains irrelevant)

    2. Simple living. — Public officials and employees and their families shall lead modest lives appropriate to their positions and income. They shall not indulge in extravagant or ostentatious display of wealth in any form.

    3. Solicitation or acceptance of gifts. — Public officials and employees shall not solicit or accept, directly or indirectly, any gift, gratuity, favor, entertainment, loan or anything of monetary value from any person in the course of their official duties or in connection with any operation being regulated by, or any transaction which may be affected by the functions of their office.

    Exemption: As to gifts or grants from foreign governments, the Congress consents to:

    (i) The acceptance and retention by a public official or employee of a gift of nominal value tendered and received as a souvenir or mark of courtesy;
    (ii) The acceptance by a public official or employee of a gift in the nature of a scholarship or fellowship grant or medical treatment; or

    (iii) The acceptance by a public official or employee of travel grants or expenses for travel taking place entirely outside the Philippine (such as allowances, transportation, food, and lodging) of more than nominal value if such acceptance is appropriate or consistent with the interests of the Philippines, and permitted by the head of office, branch or agency to which he belongs.

    What is then acceptable to the filipino people? $20,000 is not even acceptable to any public official in the White House. It is illegal.

  18. leytenian

    “he has to wash the dishes at Le Cirque after he tried to pay for the dinner with Martin Romualdez’s credit card”

    even more illegal for Martin Romualdez and the husband.

    Ordinarily speaking, a “gift” is a payment which benefits a public official. Instances include, meals, lodging, flowers, bottles of wine, tickets to cultural or sporting events, travel expenses, etc. While the making of gifts to clients or prospective clients may be standard practice in the PRIVATE sector, that activity should be highly regulated when the gift is made to a public official.

    We should demand legislators to have a display and transparency of tools to implement prohibitions against illegal gifts. It is significant to emphasize that just because a gift falls within allowable legal limits does not mean that the gift could be not be deemed a bribe or illegal gratuity. We need to have a ” Gratuity LAW” . If a gift is prepared “for or because of any official act”—whether in the past, present or future—then the official who receives the benefit (and in many cases the entity making the gift) should be SUBJECT TO CRIMINAL PROSECUTION. Accordingly, gifts cannot be made as a “reward” for past conduct, or as an inducement for future conduct, to any public official; and all gifts must be permissible under the limits applicable to our Laws ( simple Living )

    Abuse of Power is when activity exceeds what is considered allowable and reasonable by an ordinary filipino-the majority

    $20,000 of entertainment gift and promotion maybe acceptable in the PRIVATE sector but not in the PUBLIC Sector. That’s bribery.

  19. mlq3

    BrianB, that too, I think this quote puts it in the context you suggest:

    http://mlq3.tumblr.com/post/138811404/as-for-high-society-which-took-much-of-my-time-in

  20. daydreamer

    But Tomastabak, you just made MLQ’s point re disconnect.

    But why should there be a connection? I suppose because we expect politicians to play for popularity, regardless of whether or not they are sincere. Its just part of the game they play.

    But because they are all players, I get nostalgic for Cory. She had that about her…that power to inspire.

  21. SoP

    Interesting points Leytenian. I like your prescripton for a gratuity law.

    But going back to our present laws, do they prohibit gifts from one public official to another, as was the case in this? Reynaldo may well suggest he offered the gift, the dinner, as a congressman and not a private individual.

  22. taxj

    Okay, so Gloria is immune from suit. How about the alleged gift giver, Martin Romualdez? And while we’re at it, where’s Chairman Abalos, Garci, Lintang Bedol, the Euro Generals, Jocjoc Bolante, etc. Will they also go the way of Nani Perez? Are they also as good as immune to suit as the President? How can we bag the biggest of them all when even the smaller ones are too big for us?

  23. BrianB

    UP n Grad, I agree with the masseuse. In NYC, there are very pretty masseuse, classy-looking, educated, for $300/hour minus tip (call girls go for $600, including tip) of course. This would really impress any macho crony.

  24. mlq3

    SoP unfortunately, the story changed. Rep. Romualdez’s staff said on their principal’s behalf that Architect Daniel Romualdez, his brother, paid for the dinner.

  25. PJ

    The Dinner is totally uncalled for. They could have used those money on more important things. It’s also annoying that the statements released by the Palace are confusing. Yet, they are still blaming the media for making things complicated… THE DAILY BITZ

  26. Tomastabak

    daydreamer, have we the people arrived at a juncture in human history wherein we the people are now capable of evaluating and reassessing the notion that all powers emanate from us- We the people. Because it seems to me that until we the people could confidently assert that that premise is true, then we seem pretty much stuck to behaving like primates imploring on mortals what only gods can do.

  27. SoP

    When you’re 1000 or so ombudsman lawyers handle on average 300 cases per year, what hope is there?

    The case might get some traction because of the publicity, but what of the other cases by ordinary civilians or businessmen aggrieved from bidding bribes by the Daniel Romualdezes of this world?

    In the end, we all suffer from an resource starved Ombudsman. The pot holes in your road, flood-causing, non-standard sized drain pipes, fire-fighting equipment that break down before even used, erroneous textbooks, basically projects that cause 10 times as much designed to fail by use of substandard materials so the contractors will have more work “repairing” their shoddy projects. There are so many ways shady dinners like this affect our lives. And the sad thing is they’re not up high in the priority of Ombudsman officers because the have “bigger fish” to catch.

  28. Norman Sison

    I want to point out that a lavish dinner like that goes against our Filipino culture of respect for the dead. In this case, since the dead happened to be a well loved former head of state, Arroyo was therefore obligated to observe that cultural gesture.

    Another, they took their time going back home to make sure they arrive in the dead of night at the airport and make an appearance at the cathedral, like thieves in the night, while we were sleeping so she wouldn’t be heckled. I would’ve sung “Ang Bayan Ko” had I been there in line to see Cory.

  29. thenashman

    I love Cerge Remonde.

    He went to dinner and did not know who paid for it.

    Was it Mike, was it Danny?

    If it was Danny, good for him, another tax deductible item. (Wait, a US Citizen buying gifts for a Head of State?)

    If it was Mike then Mike should be asking “What have you done for me lately?”

    It couldn’t have been Lito Lapid who paid for the bill. He had poor quarrying collections.

  30. Pepe Alas

    Le Cirque actually means The Circus. How apt, don’t you think? Arroyo et son cirque (Arroyo and her circus), haha!

  31. Carl

    It’s not uncommon for rich Filipinos to fritter away a million pesos, in lots of cases much, much more, for a birthday bash, wedding or anniversary. Just for a nightly bout of drinking, Erap would easily consume almost a million pesos worth of drinks (a case of his favorite Château Pétrus, at current prices of $1,500 per bottle, add up to almost P2 million).

    What this incident underscores is the scandalous gap between rich and poor Filipinos. While 90% live in poverty and want, there’s a segment of Filipinos who can live it up and spend wantonly. They can afford to indulge in P100,000 hand bags, yet they’re so cruel and stingy with their less priveleged “kababayans”.

  32. heisen menor

    2 Tagalog haiku alay kay Tita Cory:

    (sa pamana ni Tita Cory)
    dilaw, animo’y ginto
    bukang-liwayway;
    hindi dulo ng punglo!

    (sa mga taga-malacañang)
    umagos sa estero
    galing palasyo
    ang luha ng buwaya!

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