OPINION: Transparency and President Duterte's health

Ellen Tordesillas

Posted at Jun 28 2017 05:10 PM

After a six-day absence, President Duterte re-appeared at the Eid-al-ftir celebration in Malacañang on Tuesday evening.

That ended grim speculations that prompted Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella to assure the public earlier in the days that the President is “alive and well.”

In a press briefing, Abella allayed concerns about the Duterte’s prolonged absence from public activities saying, “First and foremost, he is alive and well. He is very well. He is just busy doing what he really needs to do. The President, you know, as you‘ve seen, he’s been very much in the public eye; but being out of the public eye, that is when he is able to really do all his work - he signs papers, he reads, he consults, he’s actually very busy.”

One of the issues raised about Duterte’s mysterious absence is that there is an ongoing war in Marawi City, which prompted him to declare Martial Law in Mindanao, one of the extreme measures reserved for a president to deal with an emergency situation. And he disappears from the national scene!

Abella said despite Duterte not being seen in public, ”He is on top of every situation. He is aware of what’s happening; he’s updated regularly. He’s updated regularly, he reads, he views, he listens to this, and he’s quite aware… And again, you know, this is just his, like we said, work in style, and it was not meant to cast aspersions upon anybody; but this is the way he works.”

His communications guy, Press Secretary Martin Andanar, was more colorful in his description about the President’s health. In a radio interview, Andanar said,”Ang Pangulong Duterte ay in the pink of health.”

I don’t know if it’s in our TV set but when the President delivered his speech, he was not a picture of someone “in the pink of health.” He looked looked puffy and his left eyelid was drooping. Is it from too much sleep?

Rumors and speculations thrive when there is no transparency about things that deviate from the normal. The President didn’t show up in the Leaders’ dinner and photo opportunity at the summit of Asia Pacific Economic Meeting (APEC) in Peru last November. There must be a much more urgent reason other than jet lag or diarrhea, or hatred of Obama--which were the reasons he gave--for his absence in those two important APEC events after spending millions of taxpayers’ money and enduring long hours of travel.

Also in November last year, he failed to show up in the scheduled meeting with Bangladesh officials. Malacañang denied rumors that Duterte collapsed.

The absences are becoming more prolonged. He was not seen for five days - June 11 to June 17. He missed the Independence Day celebration, an important national event no president has ever skipped.

After visiting troops wounded in the war in Marawi at the Cagayan de Oro hospital and the displaced civilians at the evacuation center in Iligan City last June 20, he disappeared again and surfaced only Tuesday.

Duterte resents calls by members of the opposition for a medical bulletin as stated in the Constitution that “In case of serious illness of the President, the public shall be informed of the state of his health."

The President’s spokespersons dismiss the demand for transparency about the President’s health saying he is not suffering from “serious illness.”

But, if he is in the “pink of health,” why is it a problem for his doctor to issue a medical bulletin? Then we would be spared of the cloud of uncertainty as we assess one year of the Duterte presidency.

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