Brunei rolls out luxury cars for Aquino, entourage
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – In a country where there is roughly one car for every three people, Porsche-loving President Benigno Aquino III got more than his usual fill of riding in high style.
Aquino and his 53-member delegation literally stopped traffic as they breezed through major city roads in fleet of luxury cars – an assortment of Mercedes Benz, Volvo and Rolls Royce models – that formed part of the royal treatment they got from the sultanate during his two-day visit here.
Cars pulled over to give way to the Filipino visitors, as though in deference to a royal motorcade, according to a member of the Malacañang staff.
Aquino motored in between meetings and speaking engagements in a Rolls Royce, his convoy reaching speeds of up to 80 kilometers per hour, something he had rarely enjoyed back home since shunning the use of emergency sirens even when in a rush amid Manila’s notorious traffic jams.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday night, Aquino was visibly thrilled with his ride around the city: “Did you see the Rolls Royce? The spare car was exactly the same.”
He said he also had the chance to engage his host, Brunei Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, in some small talk about the joys of driving.
“I asked him: “Do you drive?” He said [he does] from time to time. If he’s in the mood and his escort is taking too long, he goes ahead,” the President said.
Brunei lent up to 43 cars to the Philippine delegation, at almost one car per delegate.
“It’s really different how they treat visitors here. It’s like you’re also royalty,” said Paulo Espiritu, director of Malacañang’s Media Accreditation and Relations Division.
“They really observed discipline, traffic rules. The other cars in either direction stopped on the shoulders whenever the [Philippine] convoy passed by,” he said.
In those brief moments, “it’s as if the roads were [turned into] a parking lot,” said the official, who travelled with the President through his string of site visits and business meetings here.
A car enthusiast, Aquino drew criticism, including a YouTube lampoon, in December last year when he bought what the Palace described as a “third-hand” 2007 Porsche for P4.5 million.
The President was forced to defend the purchase, saying the car was bought using personal funds and that driving one allowed him to relax and recharge for his official duties.
Such luxurious rides are hardly a rarity in tiny, oil-rich Brunei, which has one of the highest car ownership rates in the world, and where gasoline costs half the prevailing prices in Manila.
Consistently listed among the world’s wealthiest people, Bolkiah is known to own an extensive collection of luxury cars, numbering 3,000 to 7,000.
The 64-year-old sovereign also owns “every F1 championship car since 1980,” according to a Malacañang briefer.
Bolkiah’s collection also includes a Filipino-made vehicle – a Sarao jeepney – that Aquino’s mother, the late former President Corazon Aquino, gave as a gift when she visited the sultanate 23 years ago.
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