Oct 062013

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III smiles upon his arrival at Bali airport, Indonesia, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013 to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. AP Photo

MANILA, Philippines — Amid the furor over the allocation of additional pork barrel to lawmakers in May 2012, President Aquino is attending two regional summits in Southeast Asia with a budget of P14.3 million.

The President left on a chartered flight Sunday morning for Bali, Indonesia to attend the 21st Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders’ Meeting and CEO Summit from Oct. 6 to 8.

Joining him was an 84-member delegation, including Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, Cabinet Secretary to the President Jose Rene Almendras, Presidential Management Staff head Julia Andrea Abad, and Presidential Protocol chief Celia Anna Feria.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Strategic Communications Secretary Ramon Carandang flew to the island resort ahead of the delegation.

The President and the same delegation would later fly to Brunei Darussalam to attend the 23rd ASEAN Summit and Related Meetings from Oct. 9 to 10.

Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said the government earmarked P14.3 million for the President’s attendance at the two summits.

This would cover expenses for transportation, accommodation, food and equipment, among others, for Mr. Aquino and the delegation, he said.

“I think we’ve had lower [budget] but it’s safe to say that this is a lesser amount… considering this is essentially two trips,’’ deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a text message.

Before flying out Sunday, the President was dogged by criticisms for approving the release of additional pork barrel to senators and representatives after the conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona in May 2012.

Some had questioned the legality and constitutionality of realigning savings from the so-called Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) to pet projects of the lawmakers when the program was never mentioned in the General Appropriations Act.

Worse, some had charged that the allocation of additional pork barrel to lawmakers after Corona’s impeachment trial was bribery, and smacked of political patronage.

The President would share the country’s initiatives with his counterparts in both summits, Ochoa said.

“Some of these will be on the areas of environmental protection and climate change mitigation, food security, women and the economy, infrastructure investment, among others,’’ he said in a statement.

The President was also expected to press for the “need to strengthen cooperation in cross-border education and skills training to bolster development of human resources amid economic growth,’’ he added.

As part of his itinerary in Bali, Mr. Aquino would sit as a panelist on the session on inclusive growth in the APEC CEO Summit, together with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of Thailand and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala.

The summit gathers together global CEOs from throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

The President would also meet with members of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) and counterparts from the other 20 member-economies of APEC to tackle mutual concerns, such as the promotion of trade liberalization and facilitation, economic technical cooperation and people-to-people connectivity, Ochoa said, quoting foreign affairs officials.

At the Asean summit in Brunei, Mr. Aquino would take part in at least nine different meetings between the Asean and Japan, the Republic of Korea, China, the United States and the United Nations, among others.

He will attend the gala dinner to be hosted by Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah on Oct. 9, as well as the closing ceremony and the handover of the Asean chairmanship of Brunei to Myanmar at the end of the summit.

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