MANILA — The Philippine Air Force (PAF) on Wednesday did not categorically say whether or not President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. used the government's Gulfstream G280 jet in his recent trip to Singapore to watch the Formula One (F1) Grand Prix.
The issue was raised earlier by ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro, saying that "if indeed Pres. Marcos Jr. used government resources for obviously personal, extravagant, and frivolous junket in time of economic hardship, then it is like a punch in the gut of hungry Filipinos."
Sought for comment on whether Marcos indeed used the US-made jet, PAF spokesperson Col. Ma. Consuelo Castillo only told reporters, "It is in performance of the mandate of the 250th PAW, PAF as directed by higher office.”
“The PAF, through the 250th Presidential Airlift Wing, is mandated to provide safe and secure air transport to the President for all his movements as directed by higher office. It is the rason d etre or reason for being of the 250th PAW, thus, all its air assets are dedicated for the use of the President and the First Family,” she said.
“The G280 aircraft, being a command and control aircraft, allows the President to perform his very critical function as Commander in Chief [of the] AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) while airborne wherever he is around the globe; whether on state functions or otherwise,” she added.
Castillo did not answer repeated calls and messages from ABS-CBN News for clarification.
The P2-billion G280 jet was purchased in 2019 under the administration of then President Rodrigo Duterte, as part of the military's modernization program. Its procurement earned criticism, with some groups saying it was an extravagance.
The Philippine Embassy in the US said during the turnover of the aircraft to the Philippine government in September 2020 that it will also provide the country's leadership with "fast, reliable air transport during emergencies."
The high-speed jet has a maximum range of 3,600 nautical miles or 6,667 kilometers at its long-range speed of Mach 0.80. It can fly 8 hours nonstop.
Aside from seeking answer on whether or not the G280 jet was used, critics of Marcos' weekend trip also asked why it was kept secret and why officials were silent about it.
"As it is, his whole Singapore GrandPrix trip is insensitive and callous in light of the suffering of Filipinos," said Castro, the lawmaker.
The president's trip, during which he was joined by First Lady Liza Marcos, their son Ilocos Norte Rep. Sandro Marcos, and his cousin House Speaker Martin Romualdez, among others, came a week after the Philippines' main island of Luzon was battered by Super Typhoon Karding (international name: Noru).
The country's 11th storm left at least 12 people dead, including five rescuers in Bulacan, tens of thousands displaced mainly due to severe flooding, and nearly 59,000 houses damaged.
It also came at "a time when public debt has breached P13 trillion" and the cost of basic commodities continuing to soar, according to Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes, Jr. and Gabriela Partylist Rep. Arlene Brosas.
"We are deep in debt, why are we spending taxpayer’s money for these trips of Mr. Marcos which have no real impact on policymaking and the economy?” Reyes had said.
"Mabuti pa si Marcos Jr., may budget para sa VIP access kasama pa ang pamilya. Samantalang ang mga Pilipino, halos wala ng makain sa patuloy na pagtaas ng presyo ng bilihin,” Brosas said for her part.
(It's good that Marcos has budget for VIP access for himself and his family, even as many Filipinos have nothing to eat as prices of goods rise.)
Palace officials either refused to reply or only said it has no information about the trip when journalists asked about it as early as last week.
They continued to remain mum through Sunday evening despite photos of Marcos and his companions at the event already circulating on social media.
Malacanang only confirmed the trip early Monday morning by saying that Marcos was able to firm up discussions held during his Sept. 6-7 state visit there and that he continued to invite investors.
This was after a Singapore official shared a few hours earlier on his social media account a photo of Marcos.
Marcos himself confirmed the trip also through social media on Monday evening, saying, "They say that playing golf is the best way to drum up business, but I say it's Formula 1. What a productive weekend!"
Newly appointed Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin on Tuesday defended Marcos from criticism that taxpayers’ money was used to fund his recent trip to Singapore.
“You may not call that a state visit. But nonetheless, it is not any less covered by that law which accords great importance and value to the welfare of the first family,” said Bersamin, a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
“You don't need to be too particular where the funds were sourced kasi (because) he was still performing his job as president when he was abroad,” he said.
But for Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, “no amount of justification that the President was able to talk to some foreign officials at the sideline of the racetrack will diminish the flawed principal purpose of the trip to watch Formula 1 racers even as Filipinos race for survival under the onslaught of escalating inflation.“