The 17-year-old granddaughter of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has drawn flak for an extravagant photo shoot at the presidential palace for her upcoming 18th birthday.
Isabelle Lovelie Duterte, whose father is Davao City Vice-Mayor Paolo Duterte and the President's elder son, hired the country's top designers, stylists and make-up artists for the shoot last week at Manila's Malacanang Palace, Philippine media reported.
Photos posted by members of the college student's team on Instagram showed her posing inside the Palace and on its grounds in different outfits, including a voluminous, off-shoulder red gown by Dubai-based designer Garimon Roferos, said the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
One photo showed her in a pink gown posing before the seal of the President and beside the Philippine flag. In another photo, she was in a red gown at the carpeted hallway leading to Rizal Hall, the venue for many of the official events held at the Palace.
A third photo showed her in a floral dress before the fountain at the Palace's grounds.
The images conjure up an image of a princess ahead of Isabelle's birthday next month, when she will have the traditional 18th birthday celebration for girls in the Philippines.
Critics see the Palace as an inappropriate venue for the photo shoot. Some Filipinos even drew parallels to Imelda Marcos, reported the Quartz. The widow of deceased dictator Ferdinand Marcos is notorious for her largesse, including once having 1,000 pairs of shoes in her collection.
"People in Marawi trying to live through the day. Isabelle Duterte at Malacanang Palace, posing in a blood red gown, getting ready to celebrate," said Twitter use Bib Macasaet, referring to the southern Philippine city devastated earlier this year by a months-long war against Islamist militants.
"The Dictator’s grand daughter lives a lavish life while the poor can barely survive. Just like the Marcoses, they are detached from reality."
In a Facebook post, acclaimed novelist and New York Times opinion writer Miguel Syjuco speculated on the costs of the photo shoot: a gown from local designer Rosenthal Tee costs between 25,000 pesos and 200,000 pesos (S$667 and S$5,340), while the one from Garimon Roferos could run up to 686,350 pesos.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque has dismissed the photo shoot as a non-issue, and said no taxpayers' money was used.
"For me, there's nothing wrong with the President's granddaughter posing for birthday pictures in Malacanang," he told reporters.
Roque said Duterte could have opted to live in the Palace and bring his entire family with him, but he did not. When he is in Manila, Duterte resides at Bahay Pagbabago, the former clubhouse of the Malacanang Golf Club.
"I think his relatives, including his own grandchildren, can have their pictures taken in Malacanang," said the president's spokesman.
"I don't think it should be an issue because they should be living in Malacanang but they chose not to do so. They're like ordinary citizens who can have their pictures taken in Malacañang," he said.
President Duterte himself, who is known for his no-frills habit, described the controversy as "a small matter".
"What's the fuss? She is part of my family," he was quoted by reports as saying on Monday.
Isabelle is no stranger to controversy, having stirred a hornet's nest earlier this year when she posted on Instagram photos of herself in expensive, designer garb from Celine and Chanel as her father was being investigated over 6.4 billion pesos worth of smuggled methamphetamine.