Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Trippin' over trip

The Inquirer editorial titled "Indecent junket" (dated December 11) expresses concern (at the very least) over the European trip of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and a reported entourage of 200, including 30 members of Congress. Three congressmen who stayed home have since called for an inquiry on this matter.

The obvious question that rises is whether or not these 30 congressmen actually spent their own money for the trip. Of course the question takes on the tone of a rhetorical one for most skeptics that pose it -- I'll have to adhere to such a tone.

Let's run through some numbers. According to their web site, Philippine Airlines -- the carrier of the contingent -- does not offer direct flights to any of the cities the contingent traveled to. In fact, no European city is listed as a regular point of destination. But for the sake of numbers assessing, consider the following: the price of a direct flight to Los Angeles starts at US$813, which translates to around P33,000. Multiply this by the family members coming along on the trip. Quite a hefty amount for a congressman whose monthly salary is pegged at around P40,000.

But let's assess further. As earlier mentioned, PAL does not offer direct flights to any of the stops the contingent made. Common sense says that each of the 200 had to spend a heftier amount for special arrangements. And it was a chartered plain; chartered flights go for even higher. For the sake of argument, let's peg the initial trip to Europe at P40,000 per individual. Multiply that by 200 and you have P8,000,000. How much of this is public money?

And let's not forget the cost for the flights to the stops after the initial landing in Europe, as well as the cost for accommodations. One can't help but cringe if not get completely drunk over the kind of money being diverted from the national budget for the Christmas vacations of these supposed leaders.

I say vacation because what business do we truly have in the three countries our "representatives" visited? The Inquirer hit the nail on the head when they hinted at the kind of hassle the contingent must have been for their various hosts.

Arroyo's meeting the Queen of England is reminiscent of former President Estrada's essentially forcing a brief meeting with President Clinton years back. At least Estrada got a few military planes out of it, albeit archaic ones. What did Arroyo get out of this other than a personal memory of meeting the Queen at an impoverished peoples' expense? What's in it for us? And did she really need 200 other persons -- 30 congressmen -- there with her? How hard is a vacation?

An Inquirer article a couple of days ago reported Arroyo told OFWs in London before meeting the Queen that she was going to boast of the Filipinos' hard work over there. The Queen already knows that, probably has a few of us on her palace staff. The Queen need not meet the illegitimate leader of her people's nurses.

Half a billion pesos spent last year by the President for travel. That's 20 percent of her entire budget. Her budget that comes from public funds. Thirty congressmen took time (and money?) away from their struggling constituents for a little Christmas trip to where our countrymen are sentenced to go mostly as laborers because of the inadequacies of congressmen, senators, and presidents past and present.

Leadership, we call it.


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