Playboy Aquino can't see what the fuss is about
The Philippines' bachelor president, Benigno Aquino, has been finding out recently there is a downside to the unrelenting public fascination with his boyish ways.
From his taste in cars, food and women and his fondness for guns, nearly every aspect of Aquino's private life has been dissected in excruciating detail.
His girlfriends are meticulously tallied and assessed, while his critics tut-tut over his late-night dating schedule.
A recent minor scandal over ownership of his 'dream' car - a second-hand 2007 Porsche 911 Turbo - illustrates how the lines between Aquino's public and private life have been blurred since he became president a little over a year ago.
Aquino said the white sports car was an impulsive Christmas gift to himself while he was grieving over the death of his mother, former president Corazon Aquino, in 2009.
But the purchase sparked widespread criticism in the poverty-stricken nation where, according to the United Nations Human Development Index, a fifth of the population lives on less than US$1.25 a day.
It was blamed for a dip in his popularity, and last week he said he had sold the car for 4.5 million pesos (HK$815,000), the same amount he paid for it.
Ernesto Maceda, an opposition politician who broke news of the sale, said: 'Friends report that when the unidentified buyer took possession of the car, the President was teary-eyed. It was really his dream car.'
But the most intense interest in Aquino's private affairs has been reserved for his love life.
Last October, Aquino became the country's most eligible bachelor after breaking up with Valenzuela City councillor Shalani Soledad, his girlfriend of two years.
After the break-up, Soledad said: 'Maybe, because we have the same line of work, mine on a much smaller scale, we knew our time wasn't ours.'
Since the break-up, Aquino watchers have spotted him on dates with at least four different women - his former personal stylist Liz Uy, businesswoman Barbie Paragas, stockbroker Len Lopez and most recently, 27-year-old school teacher Bunny Calica.
Entertainment columnist Ricky Lo, meanwhile, wrote that he had counted 17 girlfriends before Aquino became president. Various reasons have been given why Aquino, at 51, has never married.
Aquino's four sisters said they tended to act like a board of censors when it came to their brother's' numerous girlfriends.
But a Palace aide said of their boss: 'I've always heard that once a girl answers him, he becomes cold. There's a certain type of guy whose passion is in the chase.'
Local media even came up with an analysis of the president's ideal woman - 10 to 20 years younger than him, smart, pretty and curvy, with a taste for Chinese, Japanese and Filipino food and music (Aquino is said to own enough hi-fi equipment to equip a recording studio).
It is not enough that Aquino has to put up with his sisters vetting his love life - now it is the entire nation.
He lamented to a recent convention of physicians: 'As you know I am still single. If I ever get chance to go on a date, it seems I've invited the entire Filipino people to join me.
'And I wonder who gave them the right and why am I apologising to whoever had the misfortune of joining me in that circus.'
Unlike many fellow politicians in the Philippines, Aquino neither drinks nor gambles.
But his late-night dating in dimly-lit restaurants has caused consternation. His critics claim it cuts into his work time and they point out that his work day supposedly begins at 9am.
Communications Strategist Secretary Ricky Carandang is at pains to point out that his boss takes home vast amounts of paper work to 'Bahay Pangarap', the colonial era single-storey building inside the palace compound, which Aquino has turned into his bachelor pad.
Carandang said: 'There are times I get calls or mobile text messages from him at 11 in the evening or hours later, depending on what needs to be done that particular day.'
He added: 'I remember him telling me ... he never gets to watch a movie straight ... there's always something that happens in between. The president's job is never done.'
Carandang said Aquino likes to eat dinner by seven each night, prepared by Yolly Yebes, a domestic helper who has cared for him and his late mother since 1994.
Yebes also prepares his favourite breakfast food - canned corned beef fried to a crisp - cleans his room and packs his case for out-of-town trips.
Carandang said Aquino exercises by biking in the palace grounds and amuses himself by engaging in 'practical shooting' at a firing range.
But even that typical Filipino pastime came under fire when Aquino appointed two shooting buddies to government posts.