Duterte Travel Expenses in Anticipation of Gains
BECAUSE PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte travels more, it follows that his travel costs probably exceed those of his predecessors. In fact, reports on his trips abroad pointed to a 300 percent increase of Benigno Aquino III’s travel expenses.
The president’s officials have made much of what these trips stand to gain the country, describing these as travel investments.
Not too many reports have gone into the nitty-gritty details of Duterte’s travels. CMFR cheers GMA News TV’s public affairs program Investigative Documentaries (ID) for scrutinizing travel expenses, questioning his travel entourage as well as examining the possible economic and diplomatic gains (and losses) of these trips.
The program noted that Duterte made 21 trips in his first year in office. He visited all ten Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, with two trips to Thailand and Cambodia each. He also visited China twice. As of press time, the president’s office had submitted liquidation reports for only 17 trips, adding up to a total of PHP386 million. Included in this amount are costs of plane tickets, hotel accommodations, representation fees and gratuities.
ID examined each trip noting that the highest spending by the government was for the visit in Peru for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting when the president had a stopover in New Zealand to visit the OFW community in Auckland — costing the government PHP86.5 million. ID tried to ask for a breakdown of expenditures but the palace said they are still working on it.
The government’s international trips have also been observed for taking along the highest number of individuals as part of the official delegation.
According to the report, Duterte was accompanied by more than ten public officials in every trip. He brought along more than 30 delegates on his trip to Japan in October 2016. During his trip to Russia in May 2017, Duterte also had 30 delegates. Aside from cabinet members, the administration brought along about 200 businessmen and personalities: among them actors Philip Salvador and Robin Padilla who said they had paid for their own expenses.
The ID episode featured former president Fidel V. Ramos who called the trip to Russia a junket.
Ateneo School of Government (ASoG) Dean Ronald Mendoza said in the same episode that it was not just a junket but a lost opportunity. The government should be strategic and bring only experts and concerned government officials.
Analyst Richard Heydarian also said that the government should keep the number of its delegation limited and allocate additional spending to more important programs like the rehabilitation of Marawi.
Justifying Travel Expenses
The report turned to Communications Secretary Martin Andanar in the same episode to give the government side: “Yung pagbabayahe naman paraan kung saan pinalakas natin ang relasyon…ang relasyon naman kasi di natin malalagyan ng value yan. It is invaluable, intangible asset na maari nating pagkunan din in the future ng tangible investments.”
The government boasted the PHP7 billion pledge from China — a result of Duterte’s visit in October 2016. The bulk of this amount will finance the administration’s infrastructure projects for its “Build, Build, Build” program.
For context on China’s trade promises, ID referred to a Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) study on Philippines-China business-to-business partnerships which stressed that 22 Philippine companies listed as proponents in these deals had no track record in carrying out infrastructure projects. Two were not registered to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or the Department of Trade and Industry. Two, Zonarsystem Solutions Inc. and MVP Global Group Ltd., were registered only after Duterte visited China. ID went to Zonarsytems and MVP Global based on the addresses on their SEC registrations and found out that they were nonexistent.
So will the end justify the means?
Rappler previously reported that the price of the Duterte trips was thrice as big as his predecessor (“Duterte Travels: A Price Check”). The pattern of bloated budgets in this administration was also shown in a report by The Philippine Star when it compared the budget of the ASEAN Summit 2017 to a larger APEC meeting during the last term of former President Benigno Aquino III (“ASEAN Summit 2017: Bloated Budget?”). Both reports were cheered by CMFR.
For 2017, the budget for presidential visits increased 600 percent from PHP313.187 million to PHP2.12 billion. Such escalation of expenses calls for media scrutiny. The media should follow up on the details of these travels aside from reporting them as scheduled events. The public has the right to know — after all the people pay for these trips.