EVEN by The Philippines' world-renowned corruption standards, Gloria Arroyo's Imelda Marcos-style tour of Europe is setting new records for official decadence.
Scandal swirled again around the President when it was revealed she chartered a flight for almost 200 cronies and family to go on a state junket to former colonial master Spain, as well as France and Britain.
The retinue set off on a Philippine Airlines flight on Saturday only days after Ms Arroyo waved off a botched attempt by army rebels to overthrow her during a six-hour siege of Manila's Peninsula hotel.
The European trip list, leaked to the opposition, named her closest political allies from the congress, businessmen, ministers, staff and family down to her grandkids, partly and perhaps fully paid for by millions of desperately poor taxpayers.
Those entitled to an estimated $US9000 ($10,300) trip included at least 30 lower house MPs (plus spouses and companions); three senators; 50 business allies; Ms Arroyo's allegedly highly corrupt husband Jose "Mike" Miguel; her three children and her four grandchildren. The delegation is living it up at the five-star Melia Castilla hotel in Madrid, at a cost of at least 12,000 pesos ($326) a day, double what many Filipinos earn in a month.
Opposition congressman Nonito Joson claimed Malacanang Palace had paid the expenses ofthe junketeers, including $US3000 "pocket money" for each traveller as a reward for not impeaching the President on a recent third attempt.
But press secretary Ignacio Bunye retorted that the President was the victim of a "disinformation campaign". He said MPs would cover their expenses, and even claimed King Juan Carlos of Spain was paying for some of the delegation's expenses because it was an "official visit".
"That's a big delegation to Europe," Senate president Manuel Villar said.
"It would have been OK if it was in Asia. But the cost of living is high in Europe."
The Daily Inquirer reported that among the junketeers was Ms Arroyo's best girlfriend, the aptly named Amelita "Girlie" Villarosa, who admits she recently handed out cash-stuffed envelopes to MPs.
One administration critic, Teodoro Casino, told the Congress he was "shocked" at the size of the presidential delegation: "I can't imagine what their role is in the presidential trip."
Explanations were thin, with some MPs saying they would be meeting groups of overseas Philippines workers and drumming up local business.
At home, the absence of so many MPs has stalled an urgent bill to try to cut the artificially high costs of basic medicines.
Ms Arroyo regularly charters flights and travels with a huge entourage. However, this is the first time recently that she has voyaged with more than 100.
Me: You're not Aussie are you? You sound British.
Cabbie: You're quite right young lady. I hail from Manchester. But I have beeeen living here for almost two decades.
Me: See, I've been here long eough I can finally tell between British and Strine.
Cabbie: I've been to the Philippines recently you know. Me and my wife were there in June.
Me: Oh really, how did you find it?
Cabbie: Oh, Manila is a dangerous place isn't it? But we had a fine time at this gigantic shopping centre...
Me: Do you mean the one shaped like a ship?
Cabbie: Yes, that one. The Mall of Asia. My wife had a lovely time shopping. Lots of bargains.
Me: Yeah, I suppose its quite cheap when you convert from AUD to the Peso.
Cabbie: My wife just couldn't take the toilets.
Me: Oh, you mean that there's no soap and tissue paper? Yeah, you have to bring your own. Or just bring a hand sanitiser.
Cabbie: It was quite shocking for us. Especially her. I suppose you make do with what you're used to. Especially if you never know anything else.
Me: Well, if you go to the fancy shopping centres, the ones for pommies, they have soap and toilet paper.
Cabbie: That's quite sad isn't it? Don't the ordinary folk deserve the same? I mean, filthy is filthy whoever you are.
Me: You're right. When I get back home, I will have to get used to the dirt again I suppose.
Cabbie: Or you can start a campaign for soap and toilet paper in all toilets. *Cackle*