Office of the President travel expenses up by 995 percent
President Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos Jr. and first lady Liza Araneta-Marcos depart from the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City for his state visit to China on January 3, 2023. STAR / KJ Rosales


Manila, Philippines — Malacañang yesterday justified President Marcos’ travels, saying they allowed him to check on government projects and encourage businesses to invest in the Philippines.

The Palace statement was issued after the Commission on Audit (COA)’s latest report showed the Office of the President (OP) incurred P403.088 million in travel expenses in 2022, up by a whopping 995.6 percent or P366.296 million from P36.792-million total travel expenses in 2021.

Presidential Communications Secretary Cheloy Garafil said with the opening of the economy and the lifting of mobility restrictions last year, Marcos has begun going around the country “to ensure that various programs, projects and assistance of the government reach its intended beneficiaries.”

According to her, the move is part of the government’s post-COVID recovery efforts.

“Moreover, directly connecting with the local governments, local communities and sectoral groups is an integral part of the President’s decision-making process,” Garafil said.

With regard to foreign travels, Garafil said the Office of the President has received a huge volume of invitations for international events, conferences,  high-level meetings and state visits, among other events.

“The OP has acceded to some of these requests, knowing that the country and the public, in general, will benefit immensely from the President’s participation in these engagements,” she said.

“We reiterate that the administration, guided by its eight-point socioeconomic agenda, avails of opportunities to generate more foreign investments in our post-pandemic recovery initiatives. At the same time, we also hope to elevate our position in the international community through stronger bilateral ties and improved relations with multilateral or international organizations.”

Travel expenses up P366 million

A breakdown of the OP’s Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) for 2022 showed that the agency spent P10.78 million for local travels last year, slightly lower than the P11.537 million spent in 2021.

Expenses for foreign travels, on the other hand, ballooned to P392.307 million, an increase of 1,453 percent or P367.052 million from the P25.255-million foreign travel expenses in 2021 under the final full term of then president Rodrigo Duterte.

The COA said the foreign travel expenses included “transportation, travel per diem, passport and visa processing and all other travel-related expenses.”

“Significant increase of P367,052,245.96 is due to the official travels relative to the foreign summits and state visits attended by the President during the year in Singapore, Indonesia, United States of America, Cambodia, Thailand and Belgium,” the COA said.

The MOOE breakdown can be found under the Notes to Financial Statement section of COA’s 2022 annual audit report on OP.

The foreign summits and state visits mentioned by COA were all undertaken by Duterte’s successor, President Marcos, in just six months in office.

For his inaugural trip, Marcos embarked on a three-day state visit to Jakarta, Indonesia on Sept. 4 to 6 for supposed signing of several bilateral agreements and to lobby for executive clemency of Filipina death row convict Mary Jane Veloso.

Marcos then flew straight to Singapore wherein his administration supposedly netted some $6.5 billion in business investment pledges.

In the same month, Marcos also traveled to the United States to attend the 77th United Nations General Assembly. Malacañang had earlier said that the six-day trip resulted in $3.9 billion in investment pledges and about 112,000 in potential jobs.

In October, Marcos went back to Singapore for a supposed semi-official trip to attend the Formula 1 Grand Prix motor race event.

The trip was criticized as the country was reeling from the onslaught of Typhoon Karding. Malacañang had defended the trip, saying that it was by invitation of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and that attending the event was the “best way to drum up business” for the country.

In November Marcos flew to Cambodia to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summits and related meetings. In the same month, he went to Thailand to attend the 29th Leaders’ Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

Before the end of the year, Marcos also flew to Brussels, Belgium to attend a summit between the leaders of the European Union and the ASEAN.

Marcos, in an interview with select broadcast journalists last January, said his travels should be viewed not just for the expenses incurred but for the return of investments or ROI.

“In terms of the cost, you know, the way I see it, you have to look at it as ROI. Do we bring something back or do we not?” said Marcos.

Meanwhile, the MOOE breakdown showed the OP’s confidential and intelligence expenses stayed the same at P4.5 billion in 2022 from 2021.

The confidential expenses which stood at P2.25 billion both in 2022 and 2021 pertained to the “amount paid for expenses related to surveillance activities in civilian government agencies that are intended to support the mandate or operations of OP,” the COA said.

Intelligence expenses which also stood at P2.25 billion in both years pertained to the “amount paid for expenses related to intelligence information gathering, activities of uniformed and military personnel and intelligence practitioners that have direct impact to national security.” —  Elizabeth Marcelo