MANILA, Philippines - In line with his promise to bring a lean delegation in his foreign travels, only one senator and one member of the House of Representatives, four Cabinet secretaries and 25 to 30 businessmen will be joining President Aquino’s trip to the United States next week, Malacañang said yesterday.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the list of the delegation was not yet complete. The businessmen would be shouldering their own expenses.
Department secretaries Alberto Romulo of foreign affairs, Cesar Purisima of finance, Gregory Domingo of trade and industry and Rene Almendras of energy would join the President.
Lacierda said they were still waiting for the official letters from the Senate and the House as to who they would send, although Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. had said he has no intention of joining the trip unless specifically asked by Mr. Aquino. Neither is he sending a separate delegation.
“The Palace has not invited legislators from the House, maybe they want to drive home a point and I respect them for that. I have decided not to send any separate delegation. What we can achieve there, he (Mr. Aquino) can achieve there,” Belmonte said.
“I have my own way of looking at this and this (limiting travel) has nothing to do with any person. It was surprising that not too many congressmen have evinced a desire to join the (US) trip,” he told reporters. “The message really of this administration is the exact opposite of what many expect, where everybody is trying to hitch and be part of it (trip),” Belmonte said as he vowed to work hard to make the House of Representatives “junket-free” to save on public funds.
There were reports that former first lady and Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos wanted to join Mr. Aquino in New York but she was not allowed to by the House leadership.
But Belmonte said Mrs. Marcos has not personally raised the matter of her joining the trip.
Meantime, Lacierda also said that based on the tentative list furnished his office, no one from the communications group would be part of the delegation. He said he was also not asked to join.
The past administration had been heavily criticized for having big delegations every time former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo traveled.
Mrs. Arroyo also traveled frequently while Mr. Aquino said he would limit his trips to important ones.
Aquino had cancelled his trips to Vietnam, Indonesia and Belgium due to conflict in schedule. He said he would not want to go if the trips would not be maximized for the benefit of the country.
The President and his delegation will be taking a commercial flight of Philippine Airlines.
Sources also said the names of the media people to cover the event got mixed with the list of Malacañang staff members assigned to join the US trip and Aquino asked officials to trim it down.
Sources said it was explained to the President that the government would not be paying for the media people but their respective private news organizations would shoulder their expenses.
The President will deliver a speech during the United Nations General Assembly and would be attending business conferences.
President Aquino, for his part, promised to bring in more jobs as a result of his trip to the United States next week.
“I am more focused on bringing in more jobs. I am working on the companies that have pledged to invest in the country,” said the President who arrived in Davao City yesterday morning for a series of engagements in the region.
The President first led the inauguration rites for the Sibulan hydroelectric power project by the Hedcor Power Corp. in the town of Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur. He also met with over 3,000 lumad beneficiaries of the Kalahi-CIDSS poverty alleviation project of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Sto. Tomas, Davao del Norte.
Mr. Aquino, however, refused to say exactly how many jobs would be created from the talks he would have with representatives of the business firms in his US trip.
Aurea Calica, Philippine Star