Social media noticed that actors and other controversial personalities who had no official functions joined President Rodrigo Duterte’s five-day Russian trip in viral posts.
A Russia-based Filipino shared pictures on her Facebook account which included Phillip Salvador, Cesar Montano, Moymoy of the Moymoy Palaboy duo and suspended lawyer Larry Gadon.
Were they there on their own goodwill and using personal funds or were their trip and accommodations shouldered by the taxpayers? These were the main questions raised about the posts where they are seen with Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, a stalwart of ruling party PDP-Laban.
“Cesar Montano, Philip Salvador and Larry Gadon may not be working in government, but they’re cooling their heels in Russia with Duterte,” another Facebook user said.
Look who's here? atty.gadon,lord velasco,philip salvador,moymoy,cesar montano at iba pa..#duterteInRussia2019
The Palace defended the local celebrities’ presence, saying they are only “genuine and rabid fans” of the chief executive whom they have been supporting since the 2016 presidential campaign.
“With regard to the showbiz people who are here, as far as I know, when they entertain the Filipino community while waiting for the arrival of the President, they are not paid,” Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in an interview.
“They have been doing that during the presidential campaign. They just happen to be genuine and rabid fans of President Duterte,” he added.
Panelo claimed their trip was not shouldered by the government.
“As far as I know, these artistas came over Moscow on their own. The government did not spend for their fare and hotel accommodations,” he said.
Cesar Montano, who is a former Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority chief operating officer, similarly defended himself from critics and denied being in Russia at the expense of taxpayers.
“Wala po kaming bayad, hindi po kami binayaran ng gobyerno,” he said in front of Filipino migrant workers in Moscow Saturday night.
“Kusang loob po kaming pumunta dito para mapaligaya kayo,” Montano added.
The actor, as well as Phillip Salvador and Moymoy Palaboy, entertained a Filipino gathering in Russia. Duterte also visited them in the latter part of his trip.
The chief executive himself also sang and performed a duet with another Filipina.
Larry Gadon also lashed out at his critics and exclaimed they were only envious that he was able to go.
“Ako ay nagpunta dito sa Russia sa pamamagitan ng aking sariling pagbili ng tiket at pagbayad ng hotel. Kayang-kaya kong bumili ng tiket papuntang Russia at kayang-kaya kong magbayad ng hotel, mga b**o kayo, inggit kayo diyan!” he said.
Gadon claimed that he is part of the “business sector” that wants to establish solid trade relations with Russia as desired by Duterte.
Official delegates included Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and Secretary to the Cabinet Karlo Nograles.
The Cabinet members who were all on the trip were Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Agriculture Secretary William Dar, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, Science Secretary Fortunato dela Peña and Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi.
There was a large entourage even as Philippines-Russia economic and defense relations have not been sizeable nor critical. Trade relations between the two countries amounted to $1.2 million in 2018. While the amount already increased more than twofold since 2015, it is still relatively meager.
Duterte since his second year in office in 2017 has sought expanded relations with the traditional rival of the United States, the Philippines’ long-standing defense ally.
When Duterte traveled to Russia two years ago, almost the same actors were included in the trip which former President Fidel V. Ramos described as a “junket” or an “unnecessary trip by a government official which is paid for with public money.” — Artwork by Uela Altar-Badayos