Opinion

Is the President Required to Share the State of His Health with the Public?

President Duterte addresses the rumors of his alleged death over the weekend.
IMAGE Presidential Communications Operations Office / Flaticons.com
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By now, you’ve probably seen the video of President Rodrigo Duterte personally dispelling rumors about his supposed death on Facebook.

Through his common law wife Honeylet Avanceña’s Facebook account, the President, clad in a white t-shirt of a certain Davao-based firm no less, went on live video and addressed the nation to clarify once and for all that he is alive.

“For those who believe in the news that I passed away, then I request of you, please pray for the eternal repose of my soul. Thank you,” he said with a smirk.

The 25-second video was one of the three posted on Sunday, February 4 on Avanceña's Facebook account. The clips were posted on the social media accounts of news publications immediately afterward. The first one showed the President with his partner sharing snacks while reading a newspaper. The other one showed him mocking the rumor mongers of his alleged death over the weekend. “My reaction to my passing away, I will ask God first if he’s available for interview,” he said while Avanceña laughed behind the camera.

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Speculation on the true state of the President’s health was revived once more when he skipped a scheduled activity in Leyte on Friday, February 1. That he canceled his appearance was news enough, but how government officials tried to address the reason behind his no-show was what fueled the rumors.

Based on media reports, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año first said the President had “pressing commitments” which was why he couldn’t attend the Leyte event. Later on, Special Assistant to the President Bong Go reasoned the Chief Executive was in fact, “not feeling well.” When asked for clarification, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Pañelo went on the defensive and said the President is “not Superman.” By Monday afternoon, the Palace came up with a new statement: the President had a “slight fever” last Friday.

This isn’t the first time the presidential staff had conflicting statements about the Chief Executive’s health condition. It's also not the first time the President’s health was questioned.

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In June 2017, the President went on a four-day “rest” and completely steered away from the public eye after skipping the Independence day festivities. At that time, the Palace gave “fatigue” as the reason for the lengthy break. Since then, Duterte's health condition has become a constant public concern, as he has also, “disappeared” quite regularly. Coincidentally, every time he does, his camp has consistently reasoned that the President is simply “tired” and in need of rest.

To be sure, the President has previously admitted having several illnesses, namely Buerger’s disease, Barrett's Esophagus and spinal problems. In speeches, he has also repeatedly complained about his migraines. And yet, his camp and even Duterte himself refuse to seriously tackle how to properly address questions on his health, resorting to either humor or hostility. 

The Filipinos' concern about the issue has been growing. Just last January, a Social Weather Services (SWS) survey revealed that 66 percent of Filipinos are "worried" about the President's state of health. That is 11 percentage points higher than last September's survey. 

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But is the President required to share the state of his health with the public?

Under the Constitution, the President is mandated to inform the public if he or she is in serious health condition.

“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 Constitution reads.

Previous presidents have voluntarily shared their health conditions following vocal public concern. In 1996, former President Fidel Ramos underwent heart surgery, prompting his camp to issue medical bulletins. Likewise, former President and now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was hospitalized due to stomach issues during her term and also issued official statements regarding her health.

The only former President in recent history who refused to share the true state of his health during his time in power was Ferdinand Marcos who was later revealed to be suffering from lupus that eventually led to his death.

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Elyssa Christine Lopez
Elyssa Christine Lopez is a staff writer of Esquire. Follow her on Twitter @elyssalopz
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