MANILA— President Rodrigo Duterte is as well as "anyone his age," Malacañang said Tuesday, after his absence during the onslaught of this year's strongest storm and his subsequent visit to a ravaged town spawned speculation on his health.
Duterte, 75, would not have been able to visit typhoon-battered Guinobatan, Albay last Monday if his health was bad, said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.
"He is as good as anyone of his age," Roque told reporters.
Rolly (international name: Goni) was a "super typhoon" when it made landfall in Catanduanes dawn of Sunday, packing maximum sustained wind speeds of 225 kilometers per hour and dumping heavy rain across the Bicol region.
It was downgraded a few hours later as it swept across Luzon, and weakened as it skirted capital region Metro Manila and headed out to the South China Sea, where it is expected to become a severe tropical storm.
On Sunday, Cabinet officials held a press briefing. Duterte, who was then in Davao City, skipped the event, prompting many among the public to ask where the country's leader was amid the calamity. The hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo (where is the President?) trended after his no-show.
The President on Monday led an aerial survey over Bicol and later appeared before residents of Guinobatan town, where Rolly spawned landslides of volcanic ash from nearby Mt. Mayon.
During his Guinobatan visit, Duterte was seen with his anti-coronavirus mask off his face and hanging off one ear while residents stood close together to see him.
Roque said he did not know whether or not the President's mask was removed by accident.
"Ang importante po, nakarating po doon sa Guinobatan... Kung natanggal man ang mask niya, iyong danger ay na kay Presidente. Pero hindi po niya natiis ang mga Bicolano, pinuntahan niya. He exposed himself to the threat of COVID-19," he said.
(What's important is that he visited Guinobatan. If his mask was removed, the danger was against the President. But he was not able to stay away from the Bocolanos, he went to them.)
In August, Duterte had said his doctor had warned that his Barret's esophagus may progress into cancer. The disease is a condition where the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach is inflamed.