MANILA – A Palace official on Sunday branded as “gross exaggeration” an online report saying that President Arroyo and her entourage enjoyed a lavish dinner in New York City during her recent trip to the United States.
According to an online report of New York Post, the bill reached $20,000 or almost P1 million.
“That is not true. We just had a very simple dinner late at night when we arrived in New York,” said Press Secretary Cerge Remonde in a radio dzMM interview on Sunday.
“That is a gross exaggeration written in a gossip column in a New York tabloid,” he noted.
He also stressed that “not a single centavo of taxpayers’ money” was used to pay for the dinner. He said Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez was the one who hosted and paid for it.
He also does not think that the bill reached $20,000, he added.
According to the press secretary, Romualdez invited the President and her husband, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, for dinner with some chosen members of the Philippine delegation and diplomats based in New York.
Remonde said about 15 to 20 people dined at French restaurant Le Cirque.
He said Mrs. Arroyo and the delegation arrived in New York late without having dinner yet. They were just informed by the secretariat that they were invited to dinner, Remonde added.
“Siyempre n’ong inimbita ka ng kaibigan [pupunta ka]… ano ba ang alam ng Presidente kung anong klaseng dinner ‘yan?” he remarked.
Remonde shared that the invited delegation members rode the bus to attend the dinner.
He also disputed reports that the restaurant was closed for them, adding that Le Cirque was “not really as exclusive as it was being pictured.” Reports said Le Cirque is a favorite hangout of renowned personalities such as Barbara Walters, Henry Kissinger, Bill Cosby and Woody Allen.
“N’ong dumating kami doon, ang daming tables doon [na] Filipino ang kumakain. In fact, ang restaurant na ‘yan, open,” he said. “We only had one corner in the restaurant for our delegation, two long tables.”
He also mentioned that the late dinner was “very brief,” lasting for “one hour.”
“It was not as if we were partying as it was pictured to be,” commented Remonde.
Ordinary working dinner
Remonde, who attended the dinner, described it as “very simple,” adding that it “was no party.”
“This was like any other dinner that you and I will take anytime.”
He said the dinner was merely a choice of having fish or meat. Remonde said he had sea bass. There was a set menu that included soup, salad and dessert.
They were asked to order drinks. He recalled that others ordered red wine while he had a Diet Coke.
This was contrary to the online report detailing the orders of Mrs Arroyo’s entourage, including Osetra caviar ($1,400 for five ounces) and 11 bottles of Krug champagne ($510 per bottle).
They also reportedly had “Chef's Tasting Menu” or wine paired with a dish ($4,500 for 25 orders), and a three-course “Chef's Seasonal Menu” ($1,450 for 25 orders).
“Hindi totoo yan. It’s a simple dinner and as I have said it’s in a gossip column in a New York tabloid,” he repeated.
Remonde added that the dinner was “not an entirely different dining experience… [It was] just like any other working dinner.”
Mrs. Arroyo met with US President Barack Obama last July 30 in Washington D.C. She cut short her US trip so that she could return to the Philippines and make it to former president Corazon "Cory" Aquino's wake at the Manila Cathedral last August 5.
The report on the President’s dinner in New York drew criticisms from activist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and opposition leader Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay.
They criticized the dinner, saying it was not in accordance with the country’s national mourning for Aquino as well as the Philippines’ poverty situation.
Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said in statement: “Is it appropriate for a head of state of a third world country like Mrs. Arroyo to wine and dine in such a manner, given that we’re in the midst of a crisis?”
Binay, for his part, said the dinner “leaves a bad taste in the mouth” because it was held “while the nation was in mourning.”
Remonde rebuked these statements. For one, he related that the President and first gentleman even chose not celebrate their wedding anniversary “in keeping with the death of Tita Cory at that time.”
In a separate interview on ANC’s “Dateline Philippines,” Remonde also countered: “That story, about that dinner, is the fruit of a poison tree, coming as it does from the communist front organization, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, which has never ceased in its agitation propaganda against the government.”
Remonde lamented that the issue has been blown out of proportion. For him, the controversy is "part of the black propaganda” to turn the public against the Arroyo administration. -abs-cbnNEWS.com. With a report from Israel Malasa, ABS-CBN News