Senators ask for Duterte’s state of health

President Rodrigo Duterte

MANILA — Senators on Friday pressed Malacañang to reveal if President Rodrigo Duterte is indeed sick following his absence from public events since the Independence Day celebration on June 12 at Rizal Park.

The President was last seen in public on Sunday, when he visited the wounded soldiers in Cagayan de Oro and paid his last respects to eight slain Marines in Pasay.

Malacañang has said Duterte remains in excellent health despite having a “brutal schedule” that led him to miss the Independence Day celebrations in Manila.

“It behooves Malacañang to disclose the current state of health of the President,” said Senator Panfilo Lacson, a Duterte ally, saying this would dispel speculation that he is ill.

“The public deserves nothing less,” he said, noting that the health of the President of any country is not his or his family’s private affair, but a matter of public concern.

If the President is sick, Lacson said, the public will surely understand since he is exposed to all kinds of stress and physical exhaustion due to the numerous problems besetting the country, not to mention the sight of soldiers being transported in coffins by military aircraft with all the grieving families waiting to bring them to their respective provinces.

“That indeed is very stressful,” said Lacson who earlier said absence of the Chief Executive is “no big deal.”

“President Duterte is no exception. Those who came before him likewise took some days off occasionally because of health issues,” Lacson said.

He said a human body, especially that of a 72-year-old President of the country is not expected to always stay in shape.

Opposition senator Francis Pangilinan said while he accepted Malacañang’s explanation that the President was tired and needed rest, a four-day absence was a concern under the present circumstances.

“Having said that, if the President has a medical condition preventing him from fulfilling his duties as commander in chief and is not simply ‘just resting’ then the public deserves to know the truth,” he added.

Pangilinan, president of the opposition Liberal Party, earlier called on the public to give the President some leeway. “He is after all 72 years old and as he himself has said is not as strong as he used to be. I wouldn’t immediately be concerned that he has been resting for a few days. Even Presidents deserve to take a break,” he said.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea has a duty to inform the public if the President is sick.

“If he is resting, well, let him rest. No need to announce the President is resting. What for?” Pimentel added.

“Hence if there is no announcement that he is sick, why do we insist that he is sick? He is resting from the public eye! I see no issue at all,” he added.

Senator Leila de Lima, jailed on drug charges by the Duterte administration, said the Constitution requires that the public be informed of the President’s state of health in case of serious illness.

She said the Palace was taking this provision literally, and waiting until the illness is serious before informing the public.

“We do not need this at a time when the AFP is waging a war against terrorists in Marawi,” said the detained senator.

She insisted that the public needs to be fully informed. Knowing the truth about the President’s state of health is both a matter of public interest and national security, she added.

But Senator JV Ejercito said it is not the time to speculate on the health of the President.

“Let us show a united front in the face of the challenges before us. If there is anything we know of President Duterte, it is that he is honest, direct to the point and transparent. I am not worried because I am certain he will address this issue, if there is an issue,” Ejercito said.

Earlier, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, who represented the President during the Independence Day celebration, assured the public that there was nothing to worry about the President’s health. He said the President was tired following engagements in Cagayan de Oro City and Pasay City on Sunday.

“You know the President has been working 24/7, meeting the troops, meeting the commanders and then late last night, visiting the wounded and the dead. So that’s why this morning, he didn’t feel that well. Nothing to worry about but it’s better for him to rest for now,” Cayetano said.