Thursday, February 5, 2009

Living High on the Hog

REPORTED WAY BACK IN 2005 to be renting a 2-bedroom apartment in the Trump World Tower in Manhattan for $10,000 (that's half a million pesos) a month, Cecilia Rebong, consul general of the Philippine Consulate on Fifth Avenue, had defiantly justified her choice of living situation in The Filipino Reporter despite protests by Filipinos both in America and the homeland who cried that it was a wasteful use of taxpayer money which should be used instead to uplift the lives of the 90% of Filipinos at home in poverty. But coming to her defense was another public servant, Foreign Affairs undersecretary Franklin Ebdalin who said that the amount that the Philippine government pays in New York is comparable to rentals spent by other Pinoy diplomats (a shocking discovery) in Los Angeles which is $10,500 a month, Berlin ($11,000), Paris ($11,000), Rome ($10,000), Seoul ($10,000) and Vienna ($10,000). According to him, "New York is an expensive city, and considering the stature of our consul general, also in the light of security problems, we thought we’ll give her a place where she could represent the country well and which is also safe." So there. It seems that diplomats deserve this luxurious lifestyle in order to be able to represent the country well. Para maganda ang dating.
To my disappointment, the uproar had settled down somewhat since that initial discovery, and I wonder if anything had been done to stop this unforgiveable crime committed by our diplomats. For sure, the consulate's services do not seem to benefit from the Philippine government's high budget. Last year, I accompanied my father-in-law to renew his Philippine passport at the consulate and found out that the only copying machine available to the public in the building had been busted for days, according to kabayans (it also charged .25c a copy), and I had to leave the 72-year-old by himself waiting in line on the third floor to make copies of his green card and other papers at Staples about three blocks away, because we did not want to lose our spot. It seems that service to its constituents (like helping to repatriate sick or deceased penniless Filipinos) is not the first priority of the agency; rather, it is to attract foreign investors and tourists to the Philippines for the moolah (as she so emphasized in an interview with Awee Abayari of Radio Manila), the major goal of all Philippine posts abroad.

Above is a picture of the consulate and below are pictures of the Trump World Tower (flanked by the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings) and the consul general in an Imelda terno. Don't they just look the same?

Consulate General of the Philippines, 556 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10036, phone (212) 764-1330

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