PNoy is proud of its lean US bound team

PNS — PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III will take with him only four members of the Presidential Security Group when he leaves for the United States Monday for a week-long visit to save money, an official said Friday.

With a budget of only P25 million for the visit, or roughly a third of what his predecessor used to spend for her previous trips to the US, the budget for everything from the President’s delegation to his hotel room to where he would eat had been reduced, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said.

“We are conscious of the fact that we are in a debt hole, which we can only begin to climb out of if we strictly implement austerity measures and cut down on unnecessary spending,” he said.

“Cutting the expenses for this trip is one of many steps we’re taking to do that.”

The presidential party of 60 will include only four Cabinet members: Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, and Energy Secretary Rene Almendras.

“Aside from limiting the members of the President’s official delegation, the number of the support staff has been pared down to the barest minimum,” Ochoa said.

Presidential Security Group head Ramon Dizon said the security contingent was “very lean because, usually, for a two-city visit, you will have around 20 PSG members.”

Only Dizon and three other PSG members, along with a military doctor, Mr. Aquino’s senior military adviser Col. Jeffrey Delgado, and junior aide Maj. Francis Coronel, will be going.

“This is the reason why our coordination with the US Secret Service will be very vital,” Dizon said.

He said even including the advance security contingent deployed in New York and California, the number of PSG members would still not be anywhere near the usual 20-man security team of the previous administration.

Delgado said the presidential delegation would not include a baggage officer and a manifest officer. Even appointments secretary Rochelle Ahorro would not be joining the trip.

Mr. Aquino will take a Philippine Airlines commercial flight to San Francisco on Monday before chartering a PAL flight to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly.

Arrangements are still being made for his possible meeting with US President Barack Obama.

Mr. Aquino will address the UN General Assembly on Sept. 24, after which he will attend the Asean-US Leaders Meeting hosted by Obama. The Philippines is the country coordinator for the dialogue between the US and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Mr. Aquino’s confirmed bilateral meetings so far are those with Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, and Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Mr. Aquino confirmed that after his US visit, he will attend the Asean Leaders Summit in Hanoi next month and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Yokohama, Japan.

He said arrangements were being made for a possible visit to Indonesia and to China to give the Asian superpower “its due course and due recognition.”

“I’m asking the Foreign Affairs Department, our economic team, and various other sectors that I have to consult if it is possible that these would be some of the last visits that I will do,” Mr. Aquino said.

“I’m really not fond of traveling. I don’t agree with costs that do not have benefits. In America, we really have to work hard for us to bring home the bacon.”