President Rodrigo R. Duterte is MIA—missing in action. The question “Where is the President?” is continuously asked over social media. Expectedly, the President’s absence from the public eye has fueled all sorts of speculations about the status of his health.
His absence was first conspicuously noticed when he failed to attend the 119th celebration of the Declaration of Philippine Independence last June 12. It is a long-held tradition that the sitting president leads this commemoration of a most important day in the country’s history.
Malacañang issued a statement that Digong was resting. Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano explained the President’s need for rest due to lack of sleep. Cayetano said that it is quite difficult to only have two to three hours of sleep on a daily basis.
This need for rest is understandable IF the occasion he missed was not as important as the Independence Day Declaration celebration. I do not know of any other president in our history who missed this most important event. He and his people should have prepared so he was ready for the day. Moreover, the official event lasts only for a few hours. If nothing was seriously wrong, the President should have sacrificed just a bit longer before taking time off for the day.
However, as of this writing, Digong has yet to make a public appearance. He has been uncharacteristically silent for almost four (4) days. For someone who likes to talk long, and lambast and threaten his critics, this is highly unusual.
It is not surprising that speculations were rife about this absence, mostly centering on the President’s health. People want to know if Digong is well or ill, and if it is the latter, of what? There are rumors of a heart attack, others are wondering if the absence has to do with the talks about frequent vomiting during a trip, or the reported passing out some weeks back.
It did not help that on June 14, the Palace’s Communications group put out pictures of the President on social media visiting injured soldiers, and condoling with families of soldiers killed in Marawi clashes. The captions on these pictures made it appear that those events happened on the same day the pictures were released. Netizens were quick to call out the Communications group saying that those pictures were from events that occurred several days earlier. Again, people continued asking where the president was.
On the 15th of June, Presidential Special Assistant Bong Go released pictures of the President. One had Digong sitting and poring over documents, and the other, a picture of the two of them (Go and Duterte) standing and the president had a slight smile on his face. Go was quoted saying that the pictures were taken just moments before his posting.
This was followed by Chief Presidential Counsel Panelo saying that he spoke with the President on the evening of the 14th and that Digong sounded strong and upbeat. The Palace again released more pictures, this time of the President visiting Villamor Airbase. The latest was a report indicating that Duterte had flown back to Davao.
It should be noted that the source of all the recent media reports on the whereabouts and activities of the President is the Palace. Not one among the reported activities was covered live by media, and not one of the reporters covering Duterte has reported a firsthand account of actually seeing the President. Thus, the questions on Duterte’s condition persist.
The Palace knows that a lot of people are asking. Surely, the President himself, knows. At a crucial time like this when fighting the Maute group in Marawi City still rages, and hundreds have been killed including a good number of our uniformed men, the President, as the Commander-in-Chief, needs to be visible.
At a time when martial law is in effect in the whole of Mindanao and people are jittery about the situation, the President, the leader of this country must be there especially to assuage fears of abuse.
People need to know that the President is on top of the situation.
It is during times such as now when a leader must be seen, heard, and felt. Since Duterte was elected, nothing like this has happened. People always knew where he was, and media always covered him no matter how late his press conferences are.
Duterte’s health is a national concern because he is the President. The Article VII, Section 12 of the 1917 Constitution is clear. It says, “In case of serious illness of the President, the public shall be informed of the state of his health. The 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 to the President during such illness.”
The public has a right to know the president’s health condition. If nothing is seriously wrong, it is very easy for President Duterte to stop all these speculations. All he has to do is call for a press conference to be covered live by media and show to the people that he is well and able. It takes very little to end this issue and I hope Duterte does this as soon as possible.
Unless he is playing some game that we know nothing about, or there indeed, is a problem, President Duterte must already make a public appearance.
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