Senators on Duterte’s foreign trips: Outcome more important than expenses

Camille Elemia
Senators on Duterte’s foreign trips: Outcome more important than expenses
'For me, the most important aspect is the outcome of the trip,' says Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, who joined at least 2 trips abroad

MANILA, Philippines – Three administration senators said it is important to look at the outcomes of President Rodrigo Duterte’s foreign trips and not just the expenses he incurs.

Senators Sherwin Gatchalian, Joel Villanueva, and Juan Edgardo Angara said this on Monday, June 19, when asked for comment on Duterte’s foreign trip expenditures, amounting to at least P386.2 million ($7.72 million) in his 1st year in office. This amount still excludes his last 4 trips to Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, and Russia. (READ: Duterte’s foreign trips cost thrice more than predecessors’)

Angara said establishing foreign relations is part of Duterte’s duty as president.

“I don’t know the comparative figures for the past administrations of Aquino and Arroyo, but the conduct of foreign affairs is one of the duties of the President. This is especially true since we are heading the ASEAN and are expected to receive several invitations to visit foreign countries,” said Angara, whose father, former Senate president Edgardo Angara was appointed as Duterte’s special envoy to the European Union.

Gatchalian, who joined presidential trips in China and Russia, defended Duterte’s expenses. As chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2017, he said Duterte was “duty bound” to go around the region to “personally invite” his counterparts.

“The Philippines is the current chairman of ASEAN and at the same time, we hosted the ASEAN convention during the first year of (Duterte’s) term. As chairman, [he] was duty bound to go around Asia to personally invite the different leaders to participate in the convention,” Gatchalian said in a text message.

Gatchalian also said it is “more efficient” for the government to use charter flights, which is the biggest chunk of expenses based on Malacañang records obtained by Rappler.

“Their biggest expense is airplane charter. But yet it’s the most efficient for the President compared to commercial flights. Fuel and airline cost has gone up also compared to the previous years,” said Gatchalian, chair of the Senate committees on energy and economic affairs.

In all of Duterte’s trips, the government chartered a 370-seater Philippine Airlines plane. The cost for this is included in the list of expenses. During state visits, this is often shouldered by the host country.

Duterte’s large delegation contributed to the unusually high costs of his trips. Malacañang records show that Duterte’s official delegation would number between a low of 14 to a high of 32. The delegation was composed of Cabinet secretaries, undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, and other officials, excluding their staff members.

Aside from Gatchalian, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Senators Francis Escudero, and Joseph Victor Ejercito have also joined Duterte’s trips.

Outcome is ‘most important’

“I think all of us, just like in the past administrations, wish to also see how much investment they were able to bring in because of these travels so we can have the complete picture. It has always been the practice anyway, and we of course give consideration sa goodwill,” Villanueva said, as he said public officials should be made accountable.

Gatchalian, in defense of the President, cited the $24 billion worth of proposed deals from China and $2 billion from Japan, saying these will help the public.

“For me, the most important aspect is the outcome of the trip. We gained $24 billion from the renewal of ties with China and $2 billion from Japan. I want to focus on what outcomes those trips have contributed to the welfare of the Filipino people,” he said.

The Palace had previously justified the cost of Duterte’s trips using the same figures.

During Duterte’s state visit to China in October, Malacañang said Duterte brought home 13 government agreements and a pledge of P1.2 trillion ($24 billion) in business deals and public financing agreements. His Japan trip supposedly yielded P90 billion ($1.8 billion) in business deals.

These deals come in various levels of commitment. Some are actual agreements, others only Memoranda of Understanding, or Letters of Intent. – Rappler.com

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com