Aquino defends foreign trips, says Arroyo had more mileage

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VIENTIANE, Laos—President Benigno Aquino III defended his jet-setting ways, saying his travels were fewer than that of his predecessor, former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Laos is the seventh country Mr. Aquino visited this year. He said this trip cost the government P8.9 million.

The President’s previous trips this year included attendance at the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s enthronement in London, a visit to Washington for a meeting with President Barack Obama and a trip to Brunei for the wedding of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s daughter.

“I’ll bet you that my travels are much fewer than that of my predecessor,” Mr. Aquino said in remarks during a meeting with the Filipino community in Vientiane.

Mr. Aquino said the numerous trips abroad had left him drained, but he said meeting Filipinos working abroad restored his energy.

“They did not include rest in our job description, and that’s OK. It’s a good thing that even if we don’t get any rest, the tiredness and fatigue of the whole delegation is wiped away when we get to meet and mingle with fellow Filipinos,” he said.

Many of the Filipinos, garbed in Filipiniana or semiformal attire, came hours early for the event. Children from the Filipino community performed a traditional Lao dance, while a band regaled the President, as well as the Cabinet officials in attendance, with OPM hits.

The 550-member Filipino community in Laos is composed mostly of engineers, English teachers, consultants for international agencies, garments factory employees and office workers.

During his speech, Mr. Aquino commiserated with overseas Filipinos over their usual sacrifice of spending the Christmas holidays away from their loved ones.

He said he spent more than seven Christmases with his detained father in Fort Bonifacio when he was young, and two yuletide holidays in Boston when his family was in exile.

The President also waxed rhapsodic about the Filipino delicacy kutsinta (rice cake), describing how he longed for it so much in Boston. So when he finally returned to the country, he made it a point to have kutsinta and to eat three pieces each time.

“I’ve tried all kinds of kutsinta in the Philippines. They have many colors. The psychedelic colors are now gone. Normally, it’s only one color now,” he said, to the amusement of the Filipinos.

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