Rumors swirled once again around President Rodrigo Duterte’s health after the 74-year-old leader, last seen casting his vote on May 13 in Davao City, went several days without making a public appearance.
The Palace has since had to deny rumors circulating on social media that the President had been hospitalized at the Cardinal Santos Medical Center in San Juan after suffering cardiac arrest.
"There is no truth to the rumor circulating that President Rodrigo Duterte is confined in Cardinal Santos Medical Center," Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement. “The President is in his residence at the Palace, signing papers.”
He added, a little less reassuringly: “I just talked to him, he is neither confirming nor denying that he went to the hospital.”
The President’s former adviser and constant companion, senator-elect Christopher Go, moved to dispel the rumors Sunday, releasing photos showing Mr. Duterte sitting across him at a table at Bahay Pangarap, the President’s official residence.
Reminiscent of proof-of-life photos used in kidnappings, the President points to a newspaper headline to prove the photo was taken on the same day it was sent to the news media.
On Tuesday—more than a week after Mr. Duterte’s last public appearance—Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the President has no obligation to inform anyone about his illness as long as it does not affect the discharge of his official functions.
"The Constitution requires the President to divulge any serious illness on his part. But if the illness is not serious enough to affect the discharge of his official functions, the President has no duty to inform anyone. Like any citizen, the President enjoys the right to privacy under the Constitution," Guevarra said in a statement.
His statement came just as Go announced that the President would not be attending the proclamation of the winning senators this week—even though the election of most of his candidates was a resounding personal victory for Mr. Duterte.
None of these—Mr. Duterte’s absences, his spokesman’s assurances, the proof-of-life photo, or the legal argument—do all that much to bolster public confidence in the President’s health.
Unlike previous administrations, this one has never issued a medical bulletin, certainly the most transparent way of keeping the public informed about the President’s health.
This seems to be a particularly worrisome omission, given the President’s age, and his history of Buerger’s disease, Barrett’s esophagus, gastroesophageal reflux disease, frequent migraines and spinal issues.
The absence of any methodical release of medical information from the Palace allows the President’s opponents—most notably the founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Jose Ma. Sison, who lives in self-exile in The Netherlands—to cast doubts on the administration’s stability by raising questions about Mr. Duterte’s health.
Mr. Sison knows full well that rumors flourish in a vacuum—and by withholding relevant medical information, Mr. Duterte and the Palace are playing into his hands.