Lawyer to SC: Put Duterte health rumors to rest by compelling him to disclose medical records

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 20 2020 04:37 AM

MANILA – The lawyer seeking the disclosure of President Rodrigo Duterte’s health records is not stopping just yet, despite the Supreme Court’s outright junking of his petition.

In a motion filed Tuesday, Dino de Leon has urged the high court to resolve his pending motion for reconsideration, this time citing new events that fueled rumors about the President’s health condition.

Among these incidents: a medical jet that reportedly landed in Davao City and immediately returned to Singapore which prompted a denial from Malacañang that the President left the country; Interior Secretary Eduardo Año’s disclosure that he again tested positive for the coronavirus after meeting with the President several days earlier; and Senator Bong Go’s photo and live video showing the President in close contact with his second family and aides contrary to Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque’s claim that the President will remain in “perpetual isolation” or at least 6 feet away from anybody.

De Leon noted that in both the photo and the video, the President appeared “lethargic and edematous, with his right eyelid visibly drooping.”

These incidents led to several clarifications from the Palace amid mounting speculations about the real health status of the President and his whereabouts. De Leon said these could have been avoided had the Supreme Court upheld his plea.

“The rumors which beset the Executive Branch’s response to the pandemic could have easily been avoided had the Office of the President properly released a medical bulletin on the President’s health. Such was, after all, its duty pursuant to §12, Article VII of the Constitution. Having been in close contact with a member of the Cabinet who tested positive for COVID-19 and considering his overall appearance of poor health, the situation predictably descended into massive fearmongering and malicious gossiping,” the lawyer argued in his 8-page motion.

“This Honorable Court now finds itself in the unique position of putting the matter to rest by compelling the Office of the President to perform its ministerial duty of disclosure by properly informing the public of the true state of the President’s physical and mental health,” he added, urging the high court to set the case for oral arguments instead.

The Supreme Court, voting 13-2, junked De Leon’s petition in May, barely a month since it was filed and without requiring any comment from the respondents.

De Leon had anchored his petition on section 12, Article VII of the Constitution which requires the President to inform the public of the state of his health in case of serious illness and on the people’s right to know under section 7 of Article III.

But according to the Supreme Court, the deliberations of the Constitutional Commission indicate the President is given the burden to choose the appropriate means of releasing information to the public.”

It also cited the President’s cabinet meetings and televised addresses to negate De Leon’s claim that the President is seriously ill, despite the lawyer’s characterization of Duterte’s speeches as “incoherent, unresponsive, and filled with unintelligible rumblings” and resembling a “drunken monologue.”

“If the country is to hope for any measure of success, its People must necessarily be able to depend on its highest leader to steer the country through these times and produce proper results, not just provide weekly talks filled with hubris and empty promises,” De Leon asserted in his motion, pointing out the latest COVID-19 statistics with more than 160,000 positive cases in the country as of August 17.

News reports have recognized the Philippines as having the highest number of coronavirus cases in Southeast Asia.

“At the very least, our people deserve to know if we have a leader who is still fit to lead the country.”

SOLICITOR GENERAL SPEAKS

In an unsolicited statement Tuesday in response to a Facebook post, Solicitor General Jose Calida insisted there is no basis to require an independent assessment of the President’s physical and mental soundness.

“The Office of the President is not obligated to report on the state of the President’s health because he is free from any serious illness, in accordance with Section 12, Article VII of the Constitution. In fact, the President has been effectively performing his role as the nation’s leader despite known and well-publicized medical conditions that he acquired even before his incumbency,” he said.

He echoed the Supreme Court’s reasoning about the discretion on the part of the President on how to release information about his health, saying the President, like every citizen, has a right to privacy.

“As the state of his health is a personal matter, the President has the right to determine for himself whether to disclose any information on his health. So as long as he is free from serious illness, any information on his health is entitled to privacy,” he added.

The Office of the Solicitor General represents the government in cases before the higher courts and would have been required to comment on the petition filed by De Leon had the SC decided to move forward with the case.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa had said in his dissenting opinion that dismissing the petition outright was “truly perplexing” while AJ Marvic Leonen expressed “discomfort” at the ruling, warning that the high court is setting an “atrocious precedent.”

SC magistrates are expected to next meet on Tuesday for its weekly en banc session.