An Open Letter: Is ConGen Rebong’s $10,000 condo rent justified?

Community Opinion & Analysis Jul 1, 2005 at 4:22 pm

Dear Editor,

As a working Filipina who has been residing in New York City for 10 years, Foreign Affairs spokesperson Gilberto Asuque’s senseless remarks in defense of the lavish condo rental allowance extracted monthly from Philippine government funds to house our overseas diplomats reaps nothing short of blood from my ears (“DFA Defends N.Y. Envoy’s Condo Rent” Filipino Reporter, May 27, 2005).

Unless the Earth is in fact spinning in retrograde and money has begun to blossom from trees just in time for spring, there can be no rightful justification explaining how in a country as economically-disadvantaged as the Philippines, declared by the Macapagal-Arroyo administration itself as suffering from an intensified “fiscal crisis,” the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) can claim its last resort for suitable lodging for NY Consulate General Cecilia Rebong is a whopping $10K per month pad in what is perhaps the poshest and most symbolically decadent residence in Manhattan—the Trump Tower at UN Plaza.

Did the DFA miss Gloria’s memo earlier in 2004 on nationwide austerity measures or has our government’s corruption graduated from highway robbery to actual blood-sucking right here in the Big Apple?

What adds nasty insult to the even nastier injury upon struggling Filipinos suffering daily from this crisis is one diplomat’s comment that “it would not be appropriate to have [Rebong] staying in Queens.”

Anyone with the slightest clue to NYC demographics— no, not the NYC you see in movies or in television constructed out of sets in a Hollywood studio back lot—would know that the NYC borough of Queens is not only the most racially diverse borough compared to the other four, but hosts the LARGEST number of Filipino residents and businesses in New York City. So to that end, WHY WOULDN’T it be more than appropriate for the DFA to consider Queens as an optional neighborhood for Rebong?

It is amazing how one whip of a diplomat’s tongue on this matter manages not only to attempt to rationalize the hijacking of funds that rightfully belong to the starving Filipino people, but insults the working Filipinos of Queens that constitute the vast majority for whom Rebong was deployed here to serve in the first place.

Perhaps what the folks over at DFA need is a good real estate broker who can enlighten them on the joys and wonders of the outstanding Queens neighborhoods many Filipinos are proud to raise their families in and call their home— Astoria, Jackson Heights, and Elmhurst to name a few (all with access to major trains, bus stops, and 24-hour delis, I must add). I happen to have kept a few business cards handy, comes with the territory if you’re familiar with New York residential life. I also know some that are Filipino AND live in Queens. Bonus.

Better yet, Rebong can call us over at the NY Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines and we would gladly assist her in finding a more reasonably priced home. As a group of diehard city-dwellers who have traversed every nook and crannie of the metropolis in search of Filipino communities and educating them on the human rights situation in the Philippines, we know New York living-on-a-budget. We also can’t in full conscience avoid equating what the DFA is doing with these people’s funds as a direct violation against the Filipino people’s right to affordable education, affordable oil costs, affordable healthcare, jobs, food, and the list goes on…

Last but not least, we recommend Rebong, Asuque, and company brush up on the latest regarding the catastrophes we have come to know as the Philippine national economy and the national fiscal crisis. Let’s not forget under GMA’s Philippines, back-breaking tax hikes such as the Value Added Tax (VAT) continue to be imposed upon a largely underemployed and under-educated Philippine population, over 3000 Filipinos still decide daily the only way they can put food in their children’s mouths is by boarding the plane to look for work abroad, the vast majority of workers continue to struggle for a measely P125 wage increase nationwide across the board, more students quit school because of intolerable tuition fee hikes on campuses, and unarmed sugarcane workers in Cojuanco-owned Hacienda Luisita are shot dead by military for striking against, among other things, a day’s salary of P9.50 per day.

How can a sincere and lasting resolution to the country’s plunging deficit problems be ever be realized in the face of such lewd excess?

You do the math.

On behalf of all Filipinos NOT living in Wonderland, Berna Ellorin, NY Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP), May 31, 2005