Philippine leader's Porsche stirs national controversy (News Feature)
By Girlie Linao Jan 16, 2011, 4:15 GMT
Manila - Buying a car is usually a personal matter, but not for Philippine President Benigno Aquino III whose purchase of a Porsche at Christmas has become a headline-grabbing national controversy.
Within hours of Aquino admitting last week that he bought a 'third-hand' 2007 Porsche for 4.5 million pesos (104,650 dollars), the 50-year-old bachelor was swamped by criticism.
While there was no doubt that Aquino used his own money and did not spend a single centavo of government funds, critics said the binge was inappropriate and insensitive for a leader of a country where a third of the population is impoverished.
The news also came at a time when Filipinos struggled with rising prices of fuel, toll fees and basic commodities such as bread and sugar.
One left-wing lawmaker lamented that the president's 'display of wealth is a troubling reminder of the wide disparity between the rich and the poor in the country.'
A caller on a weekend radio programme even likened Aquino's Porsche purchase to a highly criticised 20,000-dollar dinner of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at New York's Le Cirque restaurant, which was paid for by a wealthy congressman during a trip in 2009.
'I didn't realize until now that he is also insensitive to the plight of poor Filipinos,' the man said. 'Why couldn't he wait to buy this expensive toy until after his term as president?'
On the president's official Facebook page, one man told Aquino that he should not be surprised at the criticism because 'a president with a Porsche while his people suffer in hunger (is) not a nice picture.'
Aquino, whose bachelor lifestyle has come under scrutiny since he became president on June 30, said he sees nothing wrong with buying the sports car using money he earned from selling an old BMW.
He also stressed that it should not affect his government's austerity campaign and fight against corruption.
'Why would it have an effect? In the first place, that is a third-hand car. Secondly, the government did not pay for it,' he told reporters.
'No one should probably object if sometimes I do something that would make me smile in the face of all the problems I am dealing with,' he added. 'There is probably nothing wrong that while I can still drive this kind of car, I will try it out and not just experience it on a video game.'
Die-hard supporters have defended Aquino, arguing that the president had the right to enjoy his own money.
'Let him enjoy the ride, he deserves it,' one car enthusiast said in an online forum.
One fan on his Facebook page said Aquino should just ignore the criticisms and continue with his job, adding that his detractors were just jealous that he could afford a Porsche.
'But if you want, you can just donate it to me,' he added. 'I salute you, sir!'
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile urged the public to let Aquino enjoy his new sports car, which he said has no bearing whatsoever on the welfare of the nation.
'If he did not steal it, why should we take away his right to have that kind of car?' he said. 'Why should we deny the highest leader of the land to have a Porsche?'
Political columnist Rina Jimenez-David said she believes that Aquino has 'the right to ride and drive the car of his choice, especially if he buys this with his own money.'
But Jimenez-David cautioned that the Porsche purchase appears to be send the wrong message about the Aquino administration.
'It gives us a glimpse into the rather bizarre priorities of the president,' she said. 'One would think, given the many grave problems he confronts, that matters of personal whim would take a back seat for now.'
'Was owning a Porsche such an urgent matter?'
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