MANILA - Quezon province Rep. Danilo Suarez admitted on Friday to being a generous companion of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, hosting dinners for her even during "state visits."
"You can ask. If there's a state visit, I normally do that," Suarez told ABS-CBN's Umagang Kay Ganda (UKG), as he admitted to footing the $15,000 dinner tab of President Arroyo and her 65-person entourage at the Bobby Van's Steakhouse in Washington D.C. last July 30.
If he is with Mrs. Arroyo during state visits and he knows a famous restaurant, Suarez said, "Niyayaya ko talaga silang kumain (I really invite them to eat)."
Suarez said several people heard and witnessed him invite Mrs. Arroyo to dinner at the Morton's Steakhouse, also in Washington, but the "more fashionable" restaurant was already packed, so they ended up in the middle-class Bobby Van's, which is equally famous in D.C.
"After the meeting of the President with President [Barack] Obama, I told the president that her 41st wedding anniversary is nearing and I would like to host a dinner," Suarez said.
He said the bill reached $15,000 because there were so many people in Mrs. Arroyo's entourage, including presidential guards and Cabinet members, and they also had to pay at least $4,000 in federal taxes.
Reports said Mrs. Arroyo had Bobby Van's house specialty, a filet mignon worth $39 or almost P2,000 per order. The whole group had steaks, lobsters and hamburgers, the reports added.
The "Reliable Source" in the Washington Post's gossip section, which broke the news about the Bobby Van's dinner, reported that an unidentified woman was seen opening a handbag, pluck out bills and pay the $15,000 dinner tab.
Suarez's admission, if true, belies the report.
The congressman said he was seated at the back of the long table, which was inside a special room at the Bobby Van's, and had to ask someone to get the receipt.
"We were seated behind. Pinakuha ko ang receipt, then I gave the money," he said, indicating that he paid cash.
Suarez was also part of Mrs. Arroyo's entourage at the prestigious Le Cirque restaurant in Manhattan, New York. He said it was Daniel, the brother of Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, who hosted the dinner and paid for the bill, which reportedly reached $20,000.
The New York dinner happened three days after the feast in Washington D.C..
Befitting a head of state
Deputy presidential spokesman, Anthony Golez, said critics of Mrs. Arroyo were actually trying to demean her and the Office of the President by hitting the lavish dinners.
“They would now have us believe that the leader of our nation is somehow not good enough to be hosted in the best hotels, or chauffeured around town, whenever he or she travels abroad as the representative of one of the 15 largest countries in the world," Golez said.
Asked whether it was proper for Mrs. Arroyo to have accepted the invitations to the lavish dinners, Golez said: “Normally, us Filipinos, when invited, we do not ask the host the food that they will serve, nor the price he will pay for the meal and in terms of the host’s decision where to host the dinner.”
Golez added that Mrs. Arroyo's critics should at least acknowledge the billions of pesos she had committed to lift poor Filipinos from hunger.
“Whatever monies may have been spent for the appropriately ceremonious conduct of her official trip abroad are but a tiny fraction of the billions of pesos she has committed, and will continue to commit to the alleviation of hunger and the amelioration of poverty in our country,” he said.