24 September 2010

Presidents and Hotdogs

This morning, there was an article on the Inquirer web site saying that President Noynoy and his entourage spent US$54 on hotdog sandwiches bought from a street vendor in New York. This was the second article I came across at the same web site in the last few days that reported something about the President eating hotdogs. The first – if I remember correctly – was when the entourage touched down at San Francisco International. Somebody from the press corps immediately twitted that the President rushed off to grab a hotdog sandwich or something.

What’s with the media, anyway? The only thing they are succeeding in doing is making it look like the President has a hotdog fetish!

So, alright! Maybe we all know what this is all about. Everyone is eager to paint this picture of a frugal President who spends the resources of the nation sparingly and eats what an ordinary citizen might eat under the same circumstances. In comparison – the point the news articles were trying to make – to you-know-who’s alleged US$20K splurge at this restaurant called Le Cirque in the same city…

Since media is so overboard on this, anyway, I’m surprised nobody has suggested to the President na sana nagbaon na lang ng Sky Flakes at mineral water for the trip. Or, sana nagpalutô ng adobo at morcon – since these do not spoil easily – at naki-init na lang sa hotel.

This morning’s article stated that the President is currently billeted at the Sofitel. Since the whole article was all about glorifying Noynoy’s pagtitipid, eh di sana it should also have suggested na nakitira na lang sa kamag-anak, as you and I would have done if we ever get the chance to cross the vast expanse of the Pacific.

The author was thoughtful enough to convert the US$54 to pesos. Roughly PHP2,400 daw. Because this article was as blatant a hard sell as there ever was on the subject of frugality, it even mentioned that the President did not naman daw eat hot dog la-ang. He apparently also ate – as if we really have to know – at the Serafina Fabulous Grill along Madison Avenue and at the Keen’s Steak House in Manhattan.

Sa Serafina daw, appetizers range from $6.50 to $18.75. Pasta dishes daw range from $13.50 to $23.

When I had the good fortune to visit the Bay Area a decade ago, Filipinos my companion and I met all admonished us never to convert prices to pesos; else we would never be able to buy anything. That was well and good for them dollar-earners. Since we were peso-earners, we could not just un-think a price in peso terms because the converted amount in pesos would be what we would be parting with from our personal monies.

Despues, since whatever the President spends on official business is paid for by constituents back home by way of taxes, that $6.50 is actually still PHP286 for appetizers la-ang of the people’s money. By the way, the minimum wage here in the province for the non-agriculture sector is still only PHP236-320.

The point of the Inquirer article, of course, was to compare the current President’s expenditures favorably with the previous incumbent’s whilst the latter was on a similar mission. Between US$2,400 and US$20K, there is no comparison!

However, for the record – and to be fair – the previous incumbent claimed that that lavish dinner everyone still talks about in circles was actually paid for by somebody else. If what she said was true – and unless there is tangible proof to the contrary, we have to give her the benefit of the doubt; else, we will all be unfair and judgmental based on hearsay alone. What was the point of the comparison, then?

Personally, if Noynoy wants to eat hotdog sandwiches as a matter of personal preference, that is his business! It is the hard sell of the image of a frugal President and the frequent references to the previous administration that tire me. Do news writers really think we will all believe that Noynoy survives on hotdog sandwiches alone? He is an haciendero, for crying out loud!

What will media write if, for some reason, Noynoy decides to splurge some of his own money on a personal whim of a dinner with some very special friends? He will be well within his rights; that much I will say. Personally, I will tell him to have a good time!

So why could we not have just said the same thing to the previous President on the occasion of the Le Cirque dinner? I believe the outrage of the nation stemmed from so much being paid almost in disregard of the poverty back home. But…

If there was even the slightest suggestion that taxpayers’ money was used, somebody please prove it and file charges! Everyone used to call the Marcoses thieves; but some of them – if not Marcos himself, who died – came back to run for public office. Everyone also used to call Estrada so many other things; and he came back to run for President. Ho-hum…

About the poverty, as a nation, we have been poor for the longest time! It will not go away even if Noynoy does not attend lavish dinners for fear that these will be considered politically incorrect. We had our chance after the Great War when we were so ahead – in terms of Economics – of most our Asian neighbors.

Development – or its antithesis, retrogression – happens over time. We have been blowing our chances and cannot keep blaming everything on one former President alone. And not that I was ever a fan of PGMA either; I just think that part of the reason we cannot move forward as a nation is that every time a new President assumes office, we feel it almost obligatory to spend so much time and energy blaming the previous President instead of getting on with the task of nation-building.

Let me just drag this story back to the hotdog business once again if just to stay true to the topic. As I have already said, what the President eats is his business. If he feels like eating hotdog, fine; anyone of us can pine for one and go to Smokey’s without having to explain our motives for wanting to eat hotdog to anyone.

If he eats hotdogs because he thinks that is all this nation can afford to feed him when he goes abroad, then he must really think we are in a bad state. He probably means well. Yet, the stock market is bullish; and the peso is appreciating against the dollar. In layman’s terms, that means we have more dollar reserves than we used to. Experts will tell you it cannot be as bad as what the hotdogs – if that was what he intended – show to the rest of the world.

There will be those who will be pleased to read similar news reports about the President’s frugality. I will not be one of those. I think what the Inquirer article only succeeded in doing was to make us look more kawawâ. Personally, since the President is the face of my nation when he goes abroad, I will not begrudge him a fancy dinner because I will want him to represent me with all the dignity and aplomb he can muster.

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