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Lavish Dinners in the Face of Hunger

My heart seems to stop when I heard the news about the controversial lavish dinners of Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her entourage in her latest July 30 US state visit. In both expensive restaurants of New York City’s Le Cirque Restaurant and Washington DC’s Bobby Van’s Steakhouse, the group paid $20,000 and $15,000 respectively. This is sheer display of callousness amid the hunger and poverty of the Filipino people and the 400,000 Americans who lost their jobs in 2008 due to economic recession.

In today’s economic meltdown, developing countries like the Philippines is worse hit. Everyday more than thousands of Filipinos mostly women are out of jobs. Factories and small enterprises are closing down. The Philippines ranked fifth among the hungry countries in the world according to international survey. Four million Filipino children are malnourished and 52 million out of 92 million Filipinos are hungry everyday. Despite job retrenchment abroad more Filipino women are still going overseas for jobs.

On that night while this woman, Philippine President Arroyo and her cohorts dined and wined lavishly, millions of Filipino children back home were dying for food. The President eat million worth dinner at the cost of hard earned taxpayer’s money with no remorse. This controversial dinner sparked outrage among Filipinos both domestic and abroad.

In defense of President Arroyo, the Palace spokeperson said that the amount is small compared to the billion of dollars the country benefited from the president’s travel abroad. Among those cited were the $6.2 billion in investments and other forms of financial assistance, as well as US military assistance and aid for Mindanao.

What an arrogance and desperate move to justify such act of indecency! Reality shows that the benefits out from the President’s foreign trips are hardly felt by the Filipino people. Those who are in power benefited much as showed by their ostentation lifestyles. Enforced exorbitant taxes among the poor cater the whims and caprices of corrupt government bureaucrats such as this. German-based Transparency International in its annual CPU index ranked the Philippines as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Just recently, a woman Philippine Navy Junior Officer Lieutenant Senior Grade Nancy Gadian revealed a multi-million corruption in the Joint Philippine –US Military War Exercises in 2007.

Mrs. Arroyo’s trip to the US cost the taxpayers a total of P 37 million. Yet, the people did not gain anything. Arroyo’s US state visit definitely further government’s bankruptcy and subservience to US loans and aids. The 45 minute talk between US President Obama and Philippine President Gloria Macapagal –Arroyo highlighted Arroyo’s appointment as the regional coordinator of the US War on Terror in ASEAN countries. Obama praised Arroyo’s accomplishment in her counter-terror effort including her statement on Burma human rights abuses.

There was no mention of American soldiers continued presence in the country and their direct participation in combat operations. There was no mention of continued human rights violations and abuses in the Philippines committed by Arroyo’s government. Definitely, President Arroyo’s lavish dinner was a celebration of renewed ties of unequal foreign relations between the post colonial slave and post colonial master.

The Filipino women’s movement together with other movement here and abroad must therefore heed the strong challenge for social change against corruption, arrogance display of power, extravagance and puppetry in time of hunger and poverty. We have to demand accountability of government’s abuse of power and corrupt practices. We must demand investigation of President Arroyo’s travel expenses. Public awareness much be launched extensively to develop strong public opinion against government corrupt practices. Community-based graft watch networks must be organized and women must take active involvement. Monitoring and filing of cases must be done as deterrence for further government anomalies.

As we Filipinos commemorated in August 21, the 26th assassination anniversary of Former Senator “Ninoy “Aquino from the Marcos dictatorship, we must live Ninoy’s legacy of continuing the fight against tyranny, dictatorship and colonialism. We must not forget the darkest years of our history and the men and women martyrs who sacrificed their lives for us and for our freedom. Let our hearts continue beating in unison with fire of love and freedom.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.

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