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At Large

Scratching the shopping itch

/ 05:07 AM November 21, 2017

A friend tells me about a fairly senior official (not the secretary of the department) who seemed to think an official trip was an opportunity to go shopping for name-branded items abroad. The conference they were to attend was just an excuse, it appeared.

The official, I am told, traveled with two suitcases neither of which was full to bursting, at least on their departure. “But on our flight home,” recalls my friend, “[the official] had to talk to other members of our party because the official was obviously going to exceed the weight limit for luggage. In fact, [the official] even had to buy an extra suitcase which [the official] then asked me to check in under my allotment to accommodate all the purchases.”

When other members of the group raised their brows at the official’s penchant for shopping in designer stores, the official protested that the money used to buy the items came from the official’s own funds. “I’m not using the government’s money,” the official protested.

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This may have been true, but the official certainly used government facilities and personnel for the shopping trips. The official insisted on being collected at the airport by an embassy vehicle and insisted their group (including my friend) be dropped off at their hotel when the embassy staffer suggested that, to avoid traffic, they could just get off at a nearby street corner. Embassy staffers were later employed to escort the official to all the stores visited and, of course, to lug all the bags and boxes that resulted from the official’s forays.

I don’t know if President Duterte has heard of the official’s penchant for shopping, but what he said in Davao about his plans to “fire” some officials for their “extravagant” foreign travels seem to apply to this Duterte appointee.

For now, the President has named only one official in the list of those addicted to wanderlust at the state’s expense. That’s the former chair of the Dangerous Drugs Board, retired general Dionisio Santiago, whom Mr. Duterte has accused of going on unauthorized trips abroad with a retinue of DDB officials, including a supposed “girlfriend.”

This is what the President said of his plans to fire more officials for their frequent travels:

“All those guys who have been using money of the government just easily going in and out of travel upon the invitation of maski sinong mga (whoever) seminar-seminar and they are really just to … some of them without getting a permit and wasting the money of the people.”

He added that he has “to ask them to resign… If at all, kung gusto ko man, kokonti lang (If I ever have to, they will just be a small number). And those important meetings. But just like yung basta na lang na (all of a sudden) there’s a seminar about whatever — about farming, about corruption, about business — hindi natin pera yan eh (that’s not our money).

“Basta (as long as it’s) corruption, I really do not tolerate it. I just say, mag-resign. Just resign.”

So far, the nosey media and eternally alert social media observers have not shared details about any, if ever, lavish shopping sprees or purchases undertaken by either President Duterte or even his companion, Honeylet Avanceña.

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Apparently, though, the avarice and indifference of other appointees have caught the attention of other Duterte officials, if not the President himself. Perhaps that is a lesson that lesser officials, such as the low-level factotum seemingly addicted to shopping, should keep in mind. Don’t outdo your superior, especially the one who appointed you to office. Keep a low profile, and if you must scratch your shopping itch, do so only with minor keepsakes and souvenir items, and never under the eagle eyes of embassy staffers who are under instructions to report every detail of an official’s visit.

Gone are the Imeldific days when tony establishments were asked to close their doors to the public because the Madame and her entourage would so occupy the sales staff with their lavish spending.

Better these days to err on the side of modesty and fiscal conservatism. Indulge your shopping bug after you leave office.

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TAGS: At Large, Rina Jimenez-David, Rodrigo Duterte, senior official who likes shopping abroad, war on corruption
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