POSTSCRIPT / May 15, 2005 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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GMA steps in to stop fumbling of husband

BACK TO VEGAS: When First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo insisted that the most expensive suite or accommodation at the MGM Grand where he stayed in Las Vegas last March was $6,000, was he telling the truth?

I won’t say he was lying, but it seems he was not exactly telling the truth.

I would have dropped the subject, but some of his apologists keep needling me with email on the rate of the suite that Mr. Arroyo reportedly used when he went to Las Vegas for the recent bout of boxer Manny Pacquiao.

Since they themselves refuse to let the issue die a natural death, here is some followup.

* * *

BALL GAME: In a newspaper story headlined “Mike Arroyo challenges critics: Your balls or mine,” the First Gentleman was quoted as saying “There is no such thing as a $20,000-a-night room. That is what you call imbento (invention). The sad part is that media played up to it.”

In reaction, reader Luge Bago at address gmail.com said: “Mr. Arroyo says that the Las Vegas MGM Grand’s most expensive suite as listed in its website is $6,000. Totally untrue. A $6,000 suite is not the most expensive accommodations that the MGM Grand has. It has the Mansion. Please click on….”

At this point, Luge Bago gave MGM Grand’s website containing fast facts, including accommodation rates, in that paradise in the Nevada desert initially designed to resemble the Emerald City of Wizard of Oz fame.

You might want to check out the website yourself: http://www.mgmgrand.com/
pages_html/pressroom_hotel_view.asp?HotelPressID=39
. There you will find the most expensive MGM Grand suite priced at $15,000 per night, not $6,000.

* * *

DROP ONE BALL: “Therefore, Mike Arroyo is not being entirely candid about his Las Vegas accommodations in March 2005,” Luge Bago continued. “He is wrong in saying that $6,000 is the most expensive accommodations the MGM has. It is, at the very least, $15,000, as the MGM Grand website states.”

Mr. Arroyo was quoted in the same story as telling the press: “I challenge them, anyone of them. If they can find a room in Las Vegas that’s $20,000 (per night), I’ll cut off my balls.”

Well, Luge Bago retorted: “Since $15,000 is closer to $20,000 than his $6,000, then he should just have one ball cut off. If Mike Arroyo can’t disappear entirely, then for the moment maybe we can at least be rid of one of his balls.”

* * *

EXQUISITE: Why is it that expensive? These excerpts from an old article in Forbes magazine about The Mansion at MGM Grand might explain it:

“Las Vegas’ structures are known for taking imitation to the extreme, blending authenticity with artificiality: think Luxor’s pyramid, with its light visible from space; the garishly colored skyline of New York, New York; or the miniature Eiffel Tower poking through the roof of Paris Las Vegas.

“Inspired by a 16th-Century Italian villa near Florence, The Mansion is no exception. (What could be more artificial than a verdant courtyard in the desert that remains at a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit?) Yet, in contrast with the rest of Vegas, The Mansion — while it may be overwhelming and overpriced — is not overdone. Its take on Tuscany would make a Medici feel at home. (Literally. The gardens were designed after those at one of the family’s estates.)

“No expense was spared in creating this exquisite property, which includes 30 apartment-style villas (each with its own indoor pool), a private casino, two spas, high-tech screening and conference rooms, and $1 million worth of area rugs. The Mansion also boasts an art collection that puts Vegas’ Guggenheim Hermitage Museum to shame.

“Should you so desire, each villa comes complete with a private butler, though you’ll hardly need one. Two highly trained chefs, specializing in Continental and Asian cuisine, are at the disposal of The Mansion’s guests.

“When it comes to naming The Mansion’s clientele, mum’s the word, as it should be. For members of the Forbes World’s Richest People and Celebrity 100 lists, as well as CEOs and serious gamblers, this is not a place to see and be seen; it’s a place to enjoy the comforts of privilege–and maybe give a little of that wealth back at the tables.”

* * *

IT PAYS TO BE RICH: The Forbes article continues: “In Las Vegas, it certainly pays to be rich. And if you’re tempted to stay at The Mansion at MGM Grand, it pays to be superrich.

“Originally intended solely for high rollers invited by the hotel to stay free of charge, The Mansion now also caters to people lured to Vegas for other reasons, such as C-level executives attending a conference or celebrities in town to perform. It has maintained its exclusive status, however, and is strictly off-limits to the general public.

“Prices run from around $5,000 per night for a two-bedroom villa to $15,000 per night for a 12,000-square-foot villa that could easily accommodate eight people.

“Forbes Fact: Although The Mansion has a DVD library containing hundreds of titles, it conspicuously — and intentionally — lacks a traditional library, in a nod to Chinese gambling superstition. The Chinese word for ‘book’ sounds the same as the word for ‘lose.’ Few people come to Vegas to catch up on their reading anyway.”

* * *

NO PAGCOR FUNDS: The Forbes facts and figures might need updating, since its article was published two years ago. Note also that we are talking here only of the room rate, not the total bill which will presumably include F&B, food and beverages, plus-plus, and tips.

Some hotel guests, including those who are not spending their own money, are liable to splurge, especially if they have gotten used to high living.

I was told by an insider of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) that it is true the First Gentleman did not spend a cent in Las Vegas .

That is true, he said, because the bill was paid by Pagcor from its intelligence funds. (Until now I cannot understand why a non-military or a non-police outfit would have “intelligence” funds that are not subject to the usual auditing rules.)

I asked Pagcor chairman & CEO Ephraim Genuino about this and he denied it.

* * *

FREE DENTURES: Finally, President Arroyo told her husband to stop his PR gimmick of giving away free dentures, one of the philanthropic projects supported by his foundation. His projects have become lightning rods of criticism.

Since the mere sight of him triggers those attacks, some of them unfair, what he should do is make himself invisible and inaudible. Turn off the video and the audio, I said in my May 1 POSTSCRIPT.

But either Mr. Arroyo has convinced himself that he would die without the glare of public attention or his boys have hypnotized him into believing that he could not cope without them.

Had he followed the advice to lie low, Mr. Arroyo would not have gotten into that embarrassing imbroglio with Negros Press Club members who did not relish public identification with him.

When the club president took Mr. Arroyo as a member (he is supposedly a photojournalist) and the new member proceeded to deliver scathing remarks about press critics, key board members resigned in protest.

Mr. Arroyo gave up his six-day-old membership.

* * *

NOT EASY: Dropping out of sight and stopping his supposedly philanthropic projects would not be easy for the First Gentleman.

First, Mr. Arroyo seems to entertain thoughts that he has to cultivate his own persona in the tradition of First Ladies being a patroness of sorts of the arts or something, a Mother of Perpetual Help of the needy, a reflection of the humane side of the presidency, blah-blah.

Second, his rah-rah boys and the parasites clinging to him are not about to allow him to vanish from view just like that. Without him, what would happen to them?

Third, without his projects and his supposed philanthropy, how can Mr. Arroyo justify the millions being, huh, donated to his foundation by individuals trying to buy access to presidential favor?

* * *

PRIORITIES: For the first point, Mr. Arroyo will need help in defining his true role as husband of a President. He should drop the notion of his being a male First Lady, or an omnipresent social welfare secretary.

On the second point, he should just tell the hangers-on that he wants to have some peace and quiet for a change and will they please come only when called? He does not need them; they need him.

And third, Mr. Arroyo would be doing himself and the President a big favor if he stopped accepting donations to his foundation. He should consider dismantling the foundation.

On priorities: The presidency, whose credibility is affected by the fumbling of the First Gentleman, is more important than all the projects that his bright boys can put together under his name.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 15, 2005)

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