MANILA ? A Catholic bishop said yesterday that it was "very imprudent" for President Macapagal-Arroyo and her party to spend almost a million pesos on a single dinner in an expensive restaurant in New York during her recent trip to the US.
Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iniguez told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that people who were "entrusted by Lord" with much money should spend it wisely especially in the wake of global crisis that has been taking its toll on the country's long-suffering poor.
"They should explain because they are the ones who are being put in a bad light. Not only for their own protection but also for the country. It may be an issue that will divide us again," Iniguez said in a telephone interview.
Iniguez gave the remarks after a New York Post article reported that Arroyo and her entourage racked up a US$20,000 bill at the French restaurant La Cirque in New York as they wound up the President's trip.
Presidential spokesperson Cerge Remonde said over the weekend that Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez invited Ms Arroyo and First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo to dinner at Le Cirque.
Remonde said Malacañang did not know how muc the dinner was as it was the host who picked up the tab.
"Even if it is not public money, it is very imprudent," Iniguez said.
The Caloocan prelate is the chair of the Permanent Committee on Public Affairs of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines.
"Those who are entrusted by the Lord with that much money should also spend money wisely," Iniguez added.
Meanwhile Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez said there was nothing to apologize for the dinner since it was meant to celebrate the First Couple's wedding anniversary.
He said while a P1-million dinner tab in Manila is too much, it's small in New York.
Suarez said that he could have volunteered to foot the bill for the Le Cirque dinner celebrating the wedding anniversary of the First Couple had Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez not beat him to it.
?I don't know why they are making such a big deal, it's New York where everything is more expensive than Manila. We were more than 50 in our group, the President's security and the secret service joined us,'' said Suarez in a phone interview.
Suarez said the First Couple and her group were invited for dinner by Romualdez's brother (?a well-established architect in New York who lived at the Hamptons'') at the summer resort's yacht club but it was full.
He said they decided to move instead to Le Cirque. Suarez confirmed the Palace's claim that it was Romualdez who paid for the dinner.
?I planned to do the same, maybe next time,'' said Suarez.
The activist group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) urged House Speaker Prospero Nograles--who was part of the President's enotourage in her visit to the White House but flew afterwards to Thailand for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations parliament meeting--to reprimand his peers that joined the lavish dinner, specifically Romualdez, Suarez and Mindoro Occidental Amelita Villarosa.
Pamalakaya said the House leadership should speak out on the ?highly immoral'' dinner extravaganza and ?issue a public denouncement and apology for the aristocracy and arrogance of President Arroyo?, her family and congressmen allied with Malacañang.''
It called Press Secretary Cerge Remonde a ``certified liar'' for defending the dinner.
Remonde vented his ire over the report, saying ?not a single centavo of taxpayers' money was spent? for the Le Cirque dinner.
To quell speculations of Ms Arroyo's supposedly wasteful spending in her US trip, he said he would ask the deputy executive secretary for finance and administration to release this week a financial statement on all expenses for the visit.
"The report was grossly exaggerated, really exaggerated," he complained. "That's what you call agitation propaganda to anger the people."
Remonde held no punches in lambasting the left-leaning Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) for attacking Ms Arroyo based on an article at the New York Post. /Inquirer