NYCHRP statement on Arroyo’s “Simple” Dinner


Filipinos in New York Respond to Arroyo’s “Simple” Meals

Despite the claims of the Arroyo administration, there are certainly simple, inexpensive culinary pleasures to be had in New York City. While the Big Apple is certainly home to Wall Street power lunches, Tavern On The Green, and the Russian Tea Room, it is also home to the $1 pizza slice, the $1.25 hot dog from the street vendor, and the $4 over rice plate in Chinatown.

And with New York unemployment reaching a record high of 400,000 in 2008 due to the economic crisis, these cheap eats are becoming everyday fare for more and more New Yorkers.

In fact, New Yorkers would be the first to rebuke Philippine Presidential Press Secretary Cerge Remonde’s claims that the recent New York City dinner of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her travel entourage was a “simple” dinner, or the line that such expensive rates are “standard” in New York City.

There was nothing “simple” about Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s entourage drawing up a $20,000 tab for two tables at the ritzy Le Cirque Restaurant in Manhattan. Surely such a feast for the 65 Philippine bureaucrats who literally wined and dined to their hearts content could have easily fed several small villages in the Philippines itself. What blows our minds even more is the recent news that the infamous $20k extravaganza was preceded by a similar $15k fete in Washington DC, where Arroyo and her entourage dined at Bobby Van’s Steakhouse after her state visit with President Barack Obama.

As Filipinos in New York, this degree of extravagance from a Philippine Head of State is both vulgar and, unfortunately, familiar. Before the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, former First Lady Imelda Marcos was known for closing entire floors in Saks Fifth Avenue for her million-dollar shopping sprees. In 1982, Imelda arrived in New York to shop with 40 assistants and 300 suitcases. The previous year, Imelda purchased a Park Avenue apartment and its contents for a lump sum of $9.5 million. According to People Magazine, the then-First Lady even imported workers from the Philippines to help in refurbishing rooms in the Manhattan properties she bought. At it’s height, the Marcos family had purchased billions worth in New York City real estate, including the $51 million Crown Building and the $60 million Herald Center. Ironically, Imelda declined on purchasing the Empire State Building at $750 million, claiming it was “too ostentatious”.

But while the rest of the world was agasp and Filipinos vowed never again to such bawdy displays of lavishness, Arroyo’s latest spending spree on her so-called “simple” meals indicate she may have been taking notes from the so-called Steel Butterfly all along.

Conversely, a 2008 survey in the Philippines conducted by Gallup International revealed that four out of every ten Filipinos reported having little or no food at all on their tables in the last 12 months. At 90 million, the Philippines has one of the highest population growth rates in Asia. The Arroyo government’s failure to resolve increasing food insecurity in the country leaves hunger and malnourishment a reality for the majority of families in the Philippines.The most acute pangs of hunger remain in the densely-populated urban slum communities of Metro Manila, where just stone’s throw away from Arroyo’s residence, at least half a million families lack food.

Such excessive spending on food in the face of extreme hunger cannot be tolerated. Arroyo and friends have some serious explaining to do to the millions of poor Filipinos, including our families, whom we strive to support with our hard-earned remittances.

If $20k for dinner is “simple”, then how much would “decent”, “normal”, and “fancy” cost, by Arroyo standards? And if the Marcoses still have the gall to this day to swear by their dead patriarch’s glass coffin that they did not spend billions in Philippine public funds for their own whims, even amidst credible evidence indicating gross graft and corruption on their part, aren’t Arroyo, Remonde, et al playing the same tune when it comes to their arrogantly unapologetic stand on these dinner tabs? Does one need to be a communist to put two and two together, or is this a case of plain common sense?

In fact, an examination of Arroyo’s penchant for lavish spending of public funds during foreign trips coupled with her propensity for political repression and human rights violations of her own countrymen, may make her the star combination of both Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos’ worst traits– all wrapped up in a tiny 4’11” moled package.

Is Gloria the New Imelda in terms of spending? With her “simple” dinner costing tens of thousands in US dollars, the answer doesn’t look too bright for us mere $1.25 hot dog eaters. But then again, do we really want her to stick around in office long enough to find out?

Let us take our cue from Philippine history. In 1983, the death of one Aquino, who’s star shone brightly against the darkness of tyranny and corruption, contributed to fast tracking an ongoing people’s movement that toppled a dictatorship marked by repression, corruption and obscene lavishness. Today, in 2009, with the Arroyo administration embodying these same traits, shouldn’t the death of another Aquino, who perhaps shined even brighter, do the same?