MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - President Benigno Aquino III said Thursday he had splashed out on a luxury Porsche sportscar, sparking criticism in a country where a third of the population live on less than a dollar a day.
"It appeared to be out of character. He had campaigned against luxury cars and here he is buying a Porsche," Milo Tanchuling, secretary general of the activist group Freedom from Debt Coalition, told AFP.
"There is a danger that it will be viewed by many as a sign of extravagance and an unnecessary flaunting of wealth amid massive poverty."
Local press cited a recent Aquino order banning government units from buying luxury cars as service vehicles.
The 50-year-old bachelor said he sold his old BMW and took out a personal loan to buy the Porsche, which he said allowed him a relaxing drive amid his gargantuan responsibilities.
"I was happy with the deal because its mileage was less than 10,000 kilometers," Aquino said of the pre-owned vehicle, which local news reports said was a white entry-level model worth P4.5 million ($102,000).
Aquino's spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, defended his boss, saying the car's value had depreciated substantially compared with a brand-new Porsche.
"If it was not depreciated, the president wouldn't even buy it, wouldn't even consider it," Lacierda said.
Aquino won a landslide victory in the May election last year on an anti-corruption pledge of clean government and an end to wasteful spending that he said was the cause of widespread poverty.
Aquino has been known to take the wheel from his personal driver in the past during provincial trips, and once said he considered long drives on smooth highways as among the small luxuries he enjoys.
Lead by example
For his part, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, reminded Aquino that he should view himself as a model for other public officials.
"As the president, calling for austerity and asking people to tighten their belts, cutting the budget on various expenses, he should lead by example by not buying a luxury car which many couldn't even pronounce correctly,” he said in a statement.
Colmenares is the 9th poorest member in the previous House of Representatives with a P1.1 million net worth as reported last June 2010.
“Para sa isang katulad ko na nakatira sa isang maliit na one-bedroom apartment na katulad nito, nakakalula ang Porsche,” he said.
Aquino, last December 2010, issued Memorandum Circular No. 9 prohibiting any government agency from purchasing luxury vehicles.
Colmenares, however, admitted that Aquino, as an individual, can buy whatever he wants as long as he is not using public funds.
“It's his money, it's his right. Wala akong karapatang sabihin sa kanya kung anong bibilhin niya, kung anong hindi niya bibilhin as long as it's not public fund's, it's his money, it's his right. So I guess he can decide kung saan niya gagastusin ang kaniyang pera," said Colmenares.
‘Of bad taste’
The president also received negative comments from the public. Some of them voiced their criticism through radio and social media.
“Siyempre sa gitna ng kahirapan, kalamidad at milyon-milyon na ang nagugutom, hindi katalinuhan ang bumili ng ganito. Presidente pa naman siya,” Bernard of Mandaluyong texted to dzMM’s SRO radio show.
“Did it ever occur that spending on a Porsche, even if it's from his own fund at a time of calamity and spiraling prices, his decision is bad taste?” an unnamed texter said.
“Ang dami na ngang naghihirap afford pa nyang bumili ng luxury car. Parang awa naman sa mga naglulok sa kanya sa puwesto,” texted Enrique of San Fernando, Pampanga.
“’Yan pla wLang pera.. yan pala ung walang pangkampanya.. hahaha pakitang tao lng pla toh e.. banat ng banat kay gma xa dn pla..^_^,” posted James Santiago on Facebook.
But there are others who defended Aquino.
“The public should give the president a break for owning his Porsche, he bought it with his own money, unlike the others. Who they are?” texted Gerald of Makati.
“Puwede ba. Pagbigyan ang matandang binata. Di naman nangutang. Kanyang pera naman. Saan ang problema?” posted Delia Respicio Hernandez on Facebook.
“Ano naman masama kung bumili sya? unang una kaya naman niya bumili ng 3rd hand na sasakyan... hindi naman cguro tama na porke pangulo na natin siya wala na syang karapatan bumili ng gusto niya. Bumili sya ng gusto niya as long as sariling pera niya un gamit niya walang problema yan...” posted Richard Trasmonte.