MANILA (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): President Ferdinand Marcos Jr drew flak for flying to Singapore to watch the Formula One Grand Prix just days after Typhoon Noru pummelled parts of the Philippines.
Photos of Marcos, his relatives, their friends and political allies watching the race from inside the exclusive F1 Paddock Club have gone viral online over the weekend.
He was joined by four family members, three of whom are also elected officials: First Lady Louise Araneta-Marcos; his son, Ilocos Norte 1st District Representative Sandro Marcos; his cousin, House Speaker Martin Romualdez; and the latter's wife, Tingog party-list Representative Yedda Romualdez.
Reporters repeatedly asked Marcos' office last week to confirm his rumoured Grand Prix trip, but officials initially claimed they had no information. His staff usually updates journalists and his social media pages of his official whereabouts.
His spokesman Trixie Cruz-Angeles finally gave confirmation only on Monday morning, after Singapore's Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng confirmed Marcos' visit.
Tan said in his Facebook post that they were able to "affirm our bilateral economic relationships and strengthen collaborations in energy cooperation as well as exchange views on manpower policies on the sidelines of the race".
Marcos was in Singapore last month for a state visit, securing 356.65 billion pesos (S$8.69 billion) worth of investment pledges for the Philippines.
It is unclear for now if he spent taxpayers' money to fund his Grand Prix trip. He is the only son and namesake of the late president Ferdinand Marcos Sr, whose 21-year rule was marred by reports of rampant corruption, killings and disappearances of critics, and media oppression.
A farmers' group and several activists found Marcos' Grand Prix weekend "insensitive" to the plight of Filipinos who are still recovering from the effects of Typhoon Noru.
Government data showed Noru's onslaught caused damage worth 3.077 billion pesos in agriculture and 304 million pesos in infrastructure, flattening swathes of farmland and submerging villages in floodwater.
The typhoon killed at least 12 people and injured 52 others, while five remain missing.
"While Filipino farmers are still reeling from the damaging effects of the super typhoon, Marcos Jr is 'living the life' and having a relaxing time abroad," said Rafael Mariano, leader of the farmers' group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.
Activist Renato Reyes Jr, secretary-general of progressive group Bayan, said Marcos' trip was "insensitive, unnecessary and irresponsible".
"The belated statement... on Marcos' weekend getaway in Singapore shows that the Palace is either clueless as to the nature of the trip or Philippine officials were trying to hide the actual details of the trip," tweeted Reyes.
"We assert that the Singapore F1 weekend getaway by Marcos and family was insensitive, unnecessary and irresponsible given the crisis that the nation is in. Only the utterly callous and shamelessly entitled would not get this point," he added.
Other netizens also criticised Marcos for hosting or attending other lavish events since he took office on June 30 this year, even as the country deals with record-high inflation and the crippling impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But his supporters defended him, saying he was just unwinding for the weekend. Marcos is reportedly an F1 fan.
"If true, President Bongbong Marcos has every right to unwind during the weekend. Plus, Singapore is not that far from (the Philippines). If the opposition tries to frame this in a bad light, (his communication) team will neutralise it," said Twitter user Senzaltro Otravia.
Pro-Marcos blogger RJ Nieto said the F1 Grand Prix was a good opportunity to seal deals with billionaires.
"Billionaires watch F1 races, and the best time to ask them for investments is when they're happy and excited," he noted on Facebook.
Marcos was already back in the Philippines by Monday morning, gracing a ground-breaking ceremony of the Metro Manila Subway in Pasig City. He did not grant any ambush interviews.