Friday, September 17, 2010

Aquino's US trip to cost P25-M: Palace

MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) - President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino is spending P25 million of taxpayers' money for his 7-day working visit to the United States next week, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said Friday.

Ochoa said the P25 million total estimated cost of Aquino's trip from September 20-27 is a third of what his predecessor had spent for a similar overseas travel.

“The President is serious about cutting costs in this trip. He is taking a very lean delegation and flying commercial to the US and back, which is why this trip will cost much less than previous working trips. That is why, in the interest of transparency, we are releasing these figures so the Filipino people will know where their money is going and how it is being spent,” he said in a statement.

The Finance Office of the Office of the President has released P22 million to cover the expenses of Aquino's entire trip, including hotel accommodations, meals and transportation within the US. The amount does not include the estimated P3 million cost of the plane tickets to be purchased for the trip.

A Palace spokesman earlier said Aquino will be staying at the Hotel Sofitel in New York instead of the Waldorf Astoria, where his predecessor, former President Gloria Arroyo, used to stay.

The President is expected to take a commercial flight to San Francisco on Monday, and then a chartered Philippine Airlines flight from San Francisco to New York.

Official records, meanwhile, showed more than P76 million was spent for a presidential working visit to New York and Washington D.C. from July 29 to August 5, 2009. Planes fares for those who joined the working visit, which were priced lower then, cost the taxpayers P6.2 million.

Expenses for presidential working visits in 2009 are as follows: Switzerland, Italy, Bahrain and the US (January 30 to February 8), P156.9 million; Syria and Egypt (May 1 to May 6), P50.7 million; Japan, Colombia, Brazil, Dubai and Hong Kong (June 17 to June 28), P151.3 million; and Libya (September 1 to September 2), P35.6 million.

Lean delegation

Aquino is expected to lead a lean delegation when he embarks next week on the official visit—his first overseas travel as Chief Executive—to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Accompanying Aquino on the trip are Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Trade and Industry Secretary Gregory Domingo and Energy Secretary Rene Almendras.

Aside from limiting the members of the President’s official delegation, the number of the support staff has been pared down to the barest minimum in line with the administration’s austerity efforts. Ochoa said the presidential party will be composed of not more than 50-60 people.

As of press time the delegation's final number was still being finalized.

“We are conscious of the fact that we are in a debt hole we can only begin to climb out of if we strictly implement austerity measures and cut down on unnecessary spending. Cutting the expenses of this trip is one of many steps we’re taking to do that,” Ochoa said.

The President has pledged to limit his foreign trips to the most important and strategic ones to be able to focus on a wide array of domestic problems that he inherited upon assumption to power more than two months ago.

Aside from his attendance at the U.N. General Assembly and meeting with US President Barack Obama, Aquino is scheduled to meet top leaders of the World Bank and Citibank, and leading US businessmen to seek job-generating investments for the country and financial backup for economic development projects.

GMA will also be in New York

Meantime, President Aquino and his party won’t be the only Philippine government officials meeting world leaders in New York next week.

His predecessor, now Pampanga 2nd District Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will also be in New York at about the same time next week.

Arroyo left Thursday night for Hong Kong. Her spokesperson, Elena Bautista-Horn confirmed Arroyo will be in New York to attend the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), and a dinner with Queen Rania of Jordan on the Millennium Development Goals and its effects on women.

The dinner with the Queen of Jordan will be on September 20 while the CGI event will be from September 21-23. Arroyo was accompanied by 1 aide and 1 security personnel.

CGI head, former US President Bill Clinton, personally signed Arroyo’s invitation, which was signed June 3. Queen Rania’s invitation was dated August 11.

Arroyo and Clinton were classmates in Georgetown University.

The CGI website says: “The CGI Annual Meeting is a premier gathering for heads of state, business leaders, and non-profit directors from around the world. The 2010 Annual Meeting will take place September 21-23 in New York City.

"During the CGI Annual Meeting, members make new connections and share insights and ideas. In interactive discussions, they learn about creative approaches taken by different organizations around the world. Participants analyze pressing global challenges, discuss the most effective solutions, and build lasting partnerships that enable them to create positive social change.”

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