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Philippine leader criticized for New York dinner
Associated Press
2009-08-10 09:25 PM
Philippine lawmakers lashed out Monday against a reported $20,000 dinner bill racked up by the president and an entourage on a New York visit last week.

A report by the New York Post's online edition Friday said President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was at the Le Cirque restaurant in Manhattan with a large group "enjoying the good life." Arroyo reportedly ordered several bottles of very expensive wine, pushing the dinner tab up to $20,000.

"Be it government or private money, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth for them to spend so lavishly while so many are poor in the Philippines," said opposition Sen. Francis Escudero.

About a third of the Philippine population of 90 million lives on less than $2 a day.

Arroyo's spokesman, Cerge Remonde, called the report "exaggerated," saying their group of less than 30 Philippine officials had a "simple late night dinner" from a set menu that included soup, salad, a choice of fish or meat, and a choice of drinks.

The restaurant's Web site currently lists two possible set menus for dinner _ a "Chef's Seasonal Menu" at $58 and a "Chef's Tasting Menu" at $120 per person, with $60 wine pairings.

The Web site also offers for sale copies of an HBO documentary called "Le Cirque: A Table in Heaven."

Remonde said Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez _ one of the richest members of Congress _ paid for the Aug. 2 dinner and it would have been "impolite" for Arroyo or her husband "to inquire from their host where they will be fed or what they will be fed."

"If it was really ostentatious we should apologize, but it is not really ostentatious and we stand by that," Remonde added.

Rep. Walden Bello of the left-wing Akbayan party, said he will charge Arroyo before the government Ombudsman for accepting such a dinner treat, which he called "unethical and not legal under our anti-graft laws."

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel said if Romualdez paid for the dinner, the case becomes more complicated because the Romualdez family is involved in mining and many have questioned the government's mining policies.

Romualdez could not be reached for comment. His staff said he was absent from the House session.

Also on Monday, lawyers for Arroyo denied irregularities in her statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN). They were reacting to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism's report that Arroyo's net worth more than doubled in her eight years in office, and grew by 2,000 percent since she first served as senator 17 years ago, but that she gave little detail of how it happened.

"Since she had already submitted her SALN to the Ombudsman, the president invites anyone who may have reservations to question the same before the agency," lawyer Romulo Macalintal told reporters.

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