World News

Manila lawmaker seeks inquiry on Arroyo NY dinner

MANILA (Reuters) - A Philippine lawmaker called on the country’s Ombudsman on Wednesday to investigate President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for accepting an invitation to a lavish dinner during a trip to New York.

A combination photo shows Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo gesturing during her State of the Nation Address at the House of Representatives in Manila's suburban Quezon City July 27, 2009. REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo/Files

Walden Bello, a left-wing member of Congress, said the president and government officials violated corruption laws by taking part in the dinner held in her honour at New York’s posh Le Cirque restaurant.

“I feel that this issue deserves closer scrutiny from your good office, under its broad mandate to ensure accountability in government,” Bello said in a letter to the Ombudsman.

He said the president and other officials would be guilty of bribery charges if the dinner was found to have been paid for by a private person.

The Ombudsman’s office, headed by a friend of Arroyo’s husband, has two weeks to decide whether to conduct an inquiry.

Arroyo’s partying in Manhattan last week drew public uproar in Manila. The New York Post said the president ordered several bottles of expensive wine, pushing the dinner tab up to $20,000.

One opposition politician said that sum would have provided a full day’s nourishment to nearly 3,000 poor families.

(To read the New York Post story, clickhere 183333.htm)

Presidential aides dismissed the report as “exaggerated” and said the dinner had been paid for by Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, a wealthy Filipino lawmaker and a nephew of former first lady Imelda Marcos.

The Marcoses enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle, with Imelda known for accumulating jewellery and about 1,200 pairs of shoes -- discovered by authorities when late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ousted through a popular revolt in 1986.

Romualdez, however, denied paying for the dinner and said his brother, Daniel, a New York architect, had hosted the party.

Arroyo has immunity from criminal and civil suits while in office. Bello said the other officials at the dinner could be slapped with a fine of up to six months’ pay or a one-year suspension from office.

Since she was swept into power in 2001 through an army-backed popular uprising, Arroyo has been dogged by corruption scandals. She survived three attempts by rogue soldiers to unseat her and four impeachment motions in Congress.