Tue, Jan 16, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Philippines counts the cost of the Asian summits

AFP , CEBU, PHILIPPINES

A series of Asian summits which wound up yesterday cost the Philippine government around US$20 million and it was money well spent, a senior official said.

"We have not worked out the final numbers as yet but it should be around one billion pesos [US$20 million]," said Marciano Paynor, head of the summit organizing committee.

"What did it buy us? Goodwill and good publicity," he added.

The estimate covers both a hastily postponed meeting last month and a series of meetings over the past few days -- the annual summit of the 10-nation ASEAN, its meetings with dialogue partners and the 16-nation East Asia summit held yesterday.

The government of Philippine President Gloria Arroyo previously came in for criticism for postponing the meetings in the resort of Cebu. It cited an approaching typhoon, but foreign governments had issued warnings of terror attacks.

The government increased its security force from around 7,000 last month to 10,000 this month, drafting in police and military from all over the country.

No security incidents were reported and meetings went off without major hitches, although journalists and some delegates complained of price-gouging by hotels on the resort island.

There were also transport headaches. Most meetings took place in the luxury Shangri-La hotel, miles away from the purpose-built Cebu International Convention Centre (CICC) where the media and most summit staff were based.

Traffic jams were frequent as roads were closed for VIP convoys.

Manila's price tag includes luxury hotel accommodation for all 16 leaders, their senior ministers and the 10 members of the so-called ASEAN eminent persons group. National governments pay the cost of delegation members.

All landing and parking fees for official aircraft were waived and more than US$6 million was spent on buying a fleet of luxury BMWs.

A local Honda dealership lent 31 sedans and the Development Bank of the Philippines 60 utility vehicles.

"I think the whole show went off better than most people had expected," Paynor said.

Some 2,300 delegates attended the summits, which were covered by more than 2,000 local and foreign journalists. Many hotels doubled their room rates.

The biggest cost for the Cebu provincial government was the convention center, built in eight months. The cost doubled from 250 million pesos to 550 million pesos and the roof leaked when it opened last month.

Local critics see the project -- plopped next to shanties in a largely poor area -- as an expensive folly. But provincial governor Gwen Garcia believes it was money well spent.

The center "will not become a white elephant ... the governor will not let it happen," Beth Francia, the governors spokeswoman said.

"Already we have conventions and exhibitions booked for the center going up to December. Our contribution to the summit was the CICC, which will have a long-term benefit for Cebu," she said.

Hotels in Cebu took a major hit when the summit was postponed last month, but Marco Protacio, president of the local hotel and restaurant association, declined to give figures.

"As a group we decided to leave all that behind us and move on," he said.

Cebu City mayor Tomas Osmena threw a lavish party for the media -- which included flamenco dancers, live bands and seemingly endless supplies of food and drink -- at an estimated cost in excess of 800,000 pesos.

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