May 20, 2019

There will be no end to rumors and people will become more agitated with each new story until Malacañang finally decides to be more forthright about Mr. Duterte’s state of health.

Our latest experience last Sunday proves that people are very interested in the President’s health, mostly because of numerous speculations about it.

An early morning tweet by a veteran journalist about a “big shot” supposedly rushed to a hospital in San Juan City gave netizens a jolt more intense than their first cup of coffee.

It’s a “code blue,” some added later, referring to hospital jargon about a wheeled-in patient suffering from either a heart attack or cardiopulmonary arrest. An addendum that the hospital was put on “lockdown” put more fuel to the fire.

As expected, many considered the story to be true until Malacañang issued a succession of proof of life photos of the President smiling glumly and holding copies of the Sunday papers.

But why did people believe the story at all?

The history of mysterious absences

First, there’s something about his successive days-long absences from work in the Palace.

Also his failure to appear in social events set in Malacañang and his embarrassing absences in international gatherings such as the annual ASEAN Summit and the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference.

And have those ominous-looking dark patches on his face been convincingly explained already?

Recent history is heavy with instances of the President’s mysterious disappearances.

Just earlier this month, Mr. Duterte’s spokesperson Salvador Panelo awkwardly announced that his boss was simply “busy with a lot of paperwork” following questions about his no-show at work.

To Panelo’s chagrin, the President sent Tourism Secretary Berna Puyat a photo of himself enjoying Netflix, a sheaf of the day’s newspapers at hand in an attempt to quell rumors of serious illness.

Let us not forget that just last November, Mr. Duterte missed at least four events and a gala dinner hosted by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the ASEAN Summit because he had to take “power naps.”

A month before that, President Duterte missed two official events and a Cabinet meeting purportedly because he had himself tested for colon cancer. (The result was negative.)

A similar unexplained absence last August prompted Jose Maria Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines, to claim the President was “comatose”—an allegation many believed until his special assistant Bong Go released to media a photo of the boss with an unidentified woman supposedly taken inside a hotel in Iloilo City.

Months after he was sworn as president in 2016, Mr. Duterte already stood up world leaders attending the ASEAN Summit in Laos due to a “bad headache” and a gala dinner at the APEC meeting in Lima, Peru because he was “sick.”

“In case of serious illnesses…the public shall be informed”

Section 12 of Article VII of the Constitution details specific obligations of the Executive Department.  It says that in case of “serious illness of the President, the public shall be informed of the state of his health.”

The provision also adds that “members of the Cabinet in charge of national security and foreign relations and the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines SHALL NOT BE DENIED ACCESS (emphasis ours) to the President during such illness.”

While we do not insinuate any serious illness in this article, we bring attention to the vague and seemingly evasive manner by which government officials answered media when asked about the President’s health and whereabouts on Sunday.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said the President “should probably be in his quarters and resting like what I will do in a few minutes.” The non-answer was also dismissive.

Ex-assistant Go gave a clearer answer at least when he curtly replied, “not true” to text queries.

Panelo not only denied the code blue story but went on to say the President was “at the Palace signing papers.”

As no specifics were given, we again scratch our heads at this added detail, recalling his earlier statement about Mr. Duterte being “busy with a lot of paperwork.”.

“I just talked to (the President), he is neither confirming nor denying that he went to the hospital,” the spokesperson’s official statement added.

The thing about giving unclear statements is that they tend to muddle the issue even more.  Is it too much to ask forthrightness in this situation? No official can dismiss questions about the President’s health. Even the Constitution recognizes that the chief executive’s health is a matter of national security, something that the leader needs to disclose before Cabinet members and the military.

The need for health bulletins

We hope Malacañang would not eventually turn the tables against reporters who sought to clarify this matter or any matter about the President’s health. After all, it is the media’s job to deliver accurate information.  The President’s health is always fair game when it comes to news reports. The law requires adequate disclosure.

Given the series of alarming reports about Mr. Duterte’s health, lengthy absences and no-shows in crucial gatherings, perhaps it would be advisable to establish a protocol in time for the next round of urgent queries.

And can Malacañang be more honest and specific about what ails him? We ask because the President’s health is also a matter of transparency. Let not the people believe there is an option to say otherwise.

For starters, how about a specific official tasked or authorized to give a categorical answer when the next medical issue comes up? While a reply may take time, it would at least liberate media (and concerned civilians) from the burden of searching for a credible source.

And one more thing, if the President is really not sick, why doesn’t he go to work like the rest of us salaried individuals? Nowhere does it say in the Constitution that proof of life photos would suffice as an alternative to actual attendance.

Header photo courtesy of Inquirer.net

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TAGS: Duterte