PNoy in hot water over unflattering photo

Posted at 07/05/2011 1:54 PM | Updated as of 07/06/2011 3:52 PM
This photo of President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino is "awful but genuine," according to journalist and blogger Raissa Robles. Photo from Robles' blog.

MANILA, Philippines - (3rd UPDATE) Several netizens concluded that President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III is not only violating the country's anti-smoking ban but is also not working hard enough after seeing a photo that went viral on social networking sites this week.

The photo showed the President sitting at his nearly empty desk. On it were a few folders and a large crystal ashtray.

Filipino journalist and blogger Raissa Robles claimed it was an "official photo from Malacañang," but a source told abs-cbnNEWS.com that it was part of a photo essay which was exclusive to their publication.

Robles summed up the netizens' comments in these few sentences:

"The general observation made by the commentators were that the office lacked presidential dignity. The ashtray and cigarettes on PNoy's desk showed he was violating the new No Smoking Law. And his nearly empty desk was proof of a do-nothing presidency," Robles wrote in her blog.

Below are some of the Facebook comments on the photo, as mentioned in Robles' blog entry:

"OMG. This is a lousy photo. Is it just my imagination or does this President really have no decent photographs?? How/Why did they allow this photo to be released?" said Buddy Cunanan.

Luwi Cheng, on the other hand, said, "Here we can see the blatant dichotomy of this administration that professes to stop smoking in public and yet, the president himself is one big smoker himself is attested by the picture. Now, is that not stupidity in the highest order?"

"Even my desk and the desks of executives I've been into were/are never sooo uncluttered! I thought they said he has piles of paper on his desk to go through daily? Liars!" said Patricia Ilagan.

For her part, Sylvia Cenon Sana commented, "By the looks of it he is not a working president. [From] What I can see he is just pretending [to] sit down and do some work."

A number of netizens posted a link to Robles' blog entry on their Twitter accounts. Among them are broadcast journalist and "Bandila" anchor Karen Davila, who said, "TAKE CARE OF PNOY'S IMAGE :)."

Others were not as nice.

"Ang PRESIDENTE NG PILIPINAS YOSI LANG ANG NASA MESA," tweeted user christgaudiano.

Previous reports have said that Aquino is not working hard enough because he is spending too much time playing video games, among other activities.

The President has consistently and vehemently denied such allegations.

On top of these, Aquino has been scored for not giving up smoking despite its health risks, such as lung cancer.

A smoking ban in public places and government offices went into force in the Philippines last July 1.

Not at fault?

Robles stressed, however, that netizens should not jump to conclusions after seeing just one photo.

She wrote in her blog that she got to speak with Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Undersecretary Manolo Quezon, who confirmed the photo's authenticity.

Quezon made it clear, however, that it is not a recent one as it was taken sometime last year.

This means that the smoking ban was not yet in place when Aquino was photographed in his official study with the ashtray.

She also argued that an empty desk does not denote laziness, citing a similar photo of United States President Barack Obama, "minus the ashtray and pack of cigarettes."

"The comparison of Obama and PNoy's desks tend to show that the bareness of a desk is not a gauge of lack of hard work or industry," Robles wrote.

But just like the others, she could not help but comment on Aquino's "tacky" office.

"THAT office looked tacky, especially for a male head of state," she wrote.

Palace officials react

Meanwhile, Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte defended Aquino, saying that the latter clears his work station at the end of each day and takes his work home at Bahay Pangarap near Malacañang.

This, she said, explains the nearly bare desk.

"People are reading too much," Valte said, referring to netizens who criticized the President after seeing the photo and reading blog entries about it.

Valte added that one cannot automatically infer that Aquino was indeed smoking when the photo was taken, saying that there was no lighter in sight.

For his part, Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said people cannot infer about Aquino's work ethic just by looking at one photo, echoing Robles' statement. 

This so-called issue, he said, only shows that critics are running out of negative things to say about the President. -- With a report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News