Duterte Travels: A Price Check
AMONG THE qualities that have endeared him to his supporters, the president’s simple lifestyle and his disregard for the pomp and circumstance of his office have been notable. Presidential travel and its diplomatic rigors must be a bane he has to endure. Indeed, the media have reported how, on some trips, he cut short his schedule of meetings and failed to appear for some events.
Nonetheless, President Rodrigo Duterte made 21 international trips in his first year of office – almost three times more than the number of trips abroad made by his predecessor Beningo Aquino III during the latter’s entire term. He traveled to Peru for the APEC summit, twice to Thailand, twice to China, with trips to Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Qatar and Russia.
Only Rappler has taken note of Duterte’s many travels, noting that Duterte not only traveled more, he spent more. CMFR cheers its data-driven report, which scrutinized the expenses related to the president’s foreign trips, comparing these with those of the past two administrations. Using data from Malacañang, the story also took into consideration cost factors, including the the peso-dollar exchange rates at the time the trips were made. During Aquino’s first year in office, for instance, USD 1 was PHP 40; during Duterte’s, USD 1 is PHP 50.
“Duterte’s foreign trips cost thrice more than predecessors,” revealed that government spent P386.2 million on foreign trips during Duterte’s first year – the costs range from PHP1.2 million for his two-day official visit to Myanmar in March to PHP31.8 million for his two-day state visit to Qatar in April. An infographic presented the total costs of travel of the three presidents: Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo spent PHP 80.6 million; Aquino, PHP101.5 million; and Duterte, PHP386.2 million for only 17 of the 21 foreign trips made by PRRD in the last 12 months.
The report pointed out that Aquino made only eight foreign trips, contrasting this to Duterte’s 21 in his first year of office. The government has yet to respond to Rappler’s request for the amount spent on the President’s last four foreign trips. The expenses include airfare, hotel accommodations for the president and the entire delegation, including representation, and other gratuities.
Rappler compared Duterte’s three-day trip to Thailand in March 2017, for example, cost taxpayers P29.1 million while Aquino’s two-day visit to the same country in May 2011 amounted to only P4.5 million. For the president’s two-day Vietnam trip in September, the government spent PHP14.1 million, the same amount Aquino spent for a five-day trip there if the current peso-dollar exchange rate is applied.
The pattern of increased expenditure for the ASEAN summit was the subject of The Philippine Star report also cheered by CMFR (“ASEAN Summit 2017: Bloated Budget?”). The Star compared the budget to Aquino’s budget for the larger APEC meeting only the year before.
The government says the foreign trips have resulted in billions of dollars’ worth in pledges and agreements for government projects. This claim requires following up by the media as many of the pledges have yet to come in as foreign direct investments. In fact, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) shows that while foreign direct investments went up in the first quarter of 2017, it was 12% less than the amount registered in the same quarter of 2016 toward the end of the Aquino administration (https://psa.gov.ph/foreign-investments-press-releases).
The President’s foreign trips call for media scrutiny and Rappler’s lead in pursuit of transparency and accountability is cheer-worthy: Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno has drawn attention to the issue of the current administration’s expenditures, having been sharply critical of how his predecessor did his job.
Following Diokno’s critical lead, the public deserves to know how its duly-elected officials are spending the taxpayers’ money.