At a time when Filipinos are losing their lives to fighting in the country’s troubled south, the pugnacious leader’s absence has many questioning whether his health problems have knocked him down
President Rodrigo Duterte is “alive and well” and has not been making his usual public appearances due to a particularly busy schedule behind the scenes, according to presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella.
Known for making multiple speeches on a daily basis, the leader’s recent absence from the public arena has been the subject of mounting speculation in recent weeks, with rumours that Duterte is seriously ill gaining considerable traction. The timing is particularly bad with the country’s military in an ongoing battle with Islamic State-aligned militants in Marawi City.
“First and foremost, he is alive and well, he is very well, he’s just busy doing what he needs to do,” Abella said on Tuesday, according to Reuters. “The thing that is very important to note is that he is on top of every situation, he is aware of what’s happening, he’s updated regularly, he reads, he listens and he’s quite aware. This is just his working style.”
Duterte was last seen on 20 June speaking to soldiers and evacuees in Marawi. Prior to that, he had not been seen in public for three days. He also failed to make an appearance for the country’s Independence Day celebrations on 12 June.
The controversial leader has spoken publicly about his health problems. Last December, Duterte disclosed during an hour-long speech to business leaders that he suffered from migraines and severe back pain, which he was medicating with Fentanyl, an opioid painkiller commonly prescribed to cancer patients.
During that speech, Duterte also revealed that he was abusing the drug by regularly taking two pills when his doctor had only recommended he take a quarter of one pill.
“My doctor learned that I was using the whole patch because I felt better. When he knew it, he made me stop and he said … ‘the first thing that you would lose is your cognitive ability,” he said, according to the Inquirer.
But after many critics questioned whether he was fit for the presidency, the former mayor of Davao took the now common tack of backpedalling and said that his comments were no more than a joke.
In addition to his migraines and back pain, Duterte is also known to suffer from Barrett’s oesophagus, which can cause heartburn and occasionally cancer, and Buerger’s disease, which was caused by heavy smoking during his youth. His ever growing list of serious health conditions means he often questions whether he will be able to survive his first six years in office.
“Will I survive the six years?” Duterte asked last November. “I’d make a prediction, maybe not.”
Read Southeast Asia Globe’s report card of Duterte’s first year in office: The two faces of President Duterte