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06/23/2009 | 08:56 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang welcomed Tuesday the prospect of a Senate investigation into the expenses incurred in President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's foreign trips.

At the same time, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde chided former President Fidel Ramos for questioning the "efficiency" of Mrs. Arroyo's trips because of the several side trips she had made.

"We respect the views of the former president but I think he himself recognizes the importance of these trips he has also made during his time. Regarding efficiency, we can assure the former president [na] walang inefficiency dito sa mga trip na ito and we can report to the nation kung ano ang mga cost benefit ng trip ng pangulo," Remonde said.

[We can assure the former president there is no inefficiency in these trips and we can report to the nation the cost benefits of these trips]," he said.

As for the impending Senate probe, Remonde said they are prepared to make an accounting of the expenses incurred in Mrs. Arroyo's foreign travels.

"We welcome that. Bukas ang mga bagay na yan. Those expenses are a public concern, they are subject to COA audit. Pero masasabi ko lang diyan ... napakalaki ng nadudulot na kabutihan sa bansa natin at dahil naintindihan nating lahat [na] hinaharap natin ngayong global economic crisis at ang buong mundo, isang global community already, so hindi pwedeng ang isang leader ay maging insular lamang sa kanyang mga pananaw," Remonde said in an interview on dzXL radio.

[We welcome that and we are open to the investigation. Those expenses are a public concern and are subject to government audit. But I should also say the trips brought much benefits to us. We are part of a global economy facing a global economic crisis and we need our leaders not to be insular in their world view.]

He added that the trips Mrs. Arroyo has made are not vacation trips but are "very hectic, very tiring, even dangerous working trips" to protect and promote the interest of the country.

For his part, Commission on Audit Chairman Reynaldo Villar said he is ready to provide the Senate the proper records on the foreign trips.

"Kung nag-request sino man sa ating mga lingkod-bayan sa gobyerno na gusto masiyasat ang gastusin ang opisina ng pangulo o attached agencies ng OP, pwede sila sumulat sa akin [If anyone wants to request a copy of the records of expenses incurred by the Office of the President, they can write me)," Villar said in a separate radio interview.

But he said the latest audit was in 2008, saying audits are made at the end of the year.

On the other hand, Villar said he has already started implementing a pre-audit policy where officials who fail to liquidate expenses in their past trips cannot get cash advances for the next trip until they account for their past trip expenses.

"Ngayon kung di pa na-liquidate ang unang biyahe unang gastos di siya makakuha sa susunod [If they have not liquidated their cash advances in their past trip, they cannot get cash advances for the next trip]," he said.

On Monday, opposition Senators Panfilo Lacson and Francis Escudero said they would look into if the foreign trips undertaken by President Arroyo were justified in terms of benefits for the country.

Lacson noted that the Office of the President spent roughly P800 million for President Arroyo's foreign travels last year.

"We should really scrutinize the budget of the Office of the President particularly those pertaining to foreign trips vis-à-vis the benefits derived out of [these] foreign trips," Lacson said.

For his part, Escudero said President Arroyo should set an example for people in government to save by cutting on unnecessary expenses such as foreign trips. - GMANews.TV

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