By Aldrin Cardona
It was a serious matter when President Duterte, without much coaxing, discussed his health with his audience in the presence of some members of the media last week.
The Chief Executive has been giving hints about his state of health for much longer already. He has given glimpses of his ailments, but Malacañang was always ensuring his fitness to govern.
Also the week prior, Mr. Duterte had expressed a desire to go on a three-day leave, supposedly on the advice of his physician and several other friends, supporters and Palace workmates.
That announcement was quickly doused with another statement from presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, who assured the President remains in top shape and was only to take a three-day work-from-home status, that he suddenly became the envy of many, including this writer.
Who would not want that arrangement?
But the President could not be the busiest government official there should be without a reason. He was seen going about other duties soon after that announcement, among them were visits to injured and wounded soldiers and paying respect to a business leader who recently died.
He could not rest. That is part of the rigors of the presidency.
Panelo described the President’s schedules as exhausting. Mr. Duterte had expected that.
But last week, the President admitted he is not in the best of health.
He said his health was catching up on him.
The former Davao City mayor was 71 years old when he won the presidency in 2016. He was the oldest president sworn in since Ferdinand Marcos’ ouster in 1986.
Mr. Duterte is 74 years old at present. He will complete his mandate from the people at 77. That is way advanced to seniority, his experience and wisdom vast.
But 74 is no 40. The President is dealing with many health issues and it is understandable as it comes with age.
Cory Aquino took over Marcos at 53 years old. She left Malacañang at 59, but she battled cancer until she died at 76. Mrs. Aquino should have been 86 years old had she lived to the present.
Her successor Fidel V. Ramos was 64 when he was elected as president in 1992. He was 70 on retirement and is 91-years old now. He is now seldom seen in public events, including the last EDSA rites in which he used to be an annual fixture.
Joseph “Erap” Estrada was 61 when he became president. He was ousted two years later. He reinvented himself as a Manila mayor and was just recently defeated in his attempt for a third term at 82.
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was 54 when she took over Erap and led the country until she was 63. Mrs. Arroyo served last as Speaker of the House of Representatives and is now 72.
Noynoy Aquino was the youngest elected president of the post-Marcos era at 50. He left the Palace at 56. At 59, Noynoy no longer look as the youthful “Golden Boy” of 2010.
Like Erap, he walks with a limp (due to a gunshot wound sustained during one of the power grab attempts against his mother) and has aged so much.
Three years into his term, it is not much of a wonder that Mr. Duterte would have aged much, too.
The presidency is not an easy job. Only the most courageous would thrive and survive in that seat in Malacañang.
He has to deal with many issues — food, traffic, jobs, health, education, water, security and more and more.
At his age, Mr. Duterte could not complain. He has the best of what politics could have offered.
“Is the President okay? Are you in the best of health? I know you would ask me those question,” Duterte told his audience last week in Eastern Samar. “Of course not. I am old, life has begun to take its toll on my health.”
“And if you will tell me that I am sick, I am. You name it, I have it. Let’s skip the debate on my health,” the President added.
During a visit to Russia, the Chief Executive revealed he was suffering from “myasthenia gravis.” That statement was a confirmation of earlier claims that he has the disease that causes muscle weakness.
He also said the illness was affecting the movement of his eyes.
We were not listening earlier, Mr. Duterte had told several of his audience about them in the past.
He also previously said he has Buerger’s disease. His addiction to nicotine had caused constriction of his blood vessels.
Then he said he has Barrett’s esophagus, a disease involving the tissue in the esophagus. He admitted to being subjected to blood tests almost every other day.
These are serious concerns. The President and his closest circle know it.
His critics view them as signs that the President is dying.
Hold your horses. He is not.
Anyone over 40 is living precariously on the edge.
It is almost always the start of the “maintenance years.”
The President, like you and me, could be taking medications by the volume. He is as normal as we are.
Having admitted that he is being slowed down by many symptoms should prepare all those who dream of succeeding the most popular president this country had after Cory and Marcos.
Many of those lining up are far younger than he is. But age is no guarantee of good governance.
By Dinah S. Ventura
The President’s health has been the subject of much speculation lately, especially after he cut a trip short because of pains in his hip.
President Rodrigo Duterte is known for being hardworking and very much present when issues of the day arise. That people have the confidence in his strength of mind and will is certain, but lately his physical condition has been a cause for worry.
It is not new for us to wonder about the health of our Chief Executive. During the time of Ferdinand Marcos, people were kept in the dark about his lupus condition.
His hold to power was getting more precarious at the time as the winds of change had begun to blow in. Rumors of a serious ailment fueled opposition members to bat for a successor. It was ugly and relentless.
After all, Marcos was on his third term. In a few more years, the 1986 debacle would unfold, reversing the Marcos power and putting in place the opposite spectrum.
When Cory Aquino came to power, the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which states that “in case of serious illness of the President, the public shall be informed of the state of his health,” came to be.
She may not have known it at the time, but Cory would also have a bout with a serious illness — one that manifested after her presidency.
Fidel Ramos is probably considered the healthiest of past presidents in recent memory. His exercise clips were famous during his early years in Malacañang. He urged people to stay active and healthy, which was quite in keeping with the air of economic optimism at the time. Then again, he suffered from a carotid block for which he underwent surgery. He was fine soon afterwards and kept the public informed with health bulletins throughout his term.
Former Presidents Joseph Estrada and Noynoy Aquino weren’t hounded by health controversies too much — Erap because his stint was short, and Noynoy because he didn’t fall sick much.
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, for her part, had a serious ailment that put her neck in braces. Though there were comments about her health condition, these were usually overshadowed by talks on the allegations that may have caused the stress that aggravated her illness instead. At one point, she also had surgeries done to remove lumps in her breast.
In the case of Duterte, the public has been curious whether any of the rumors of a serious illness is true.
The President has been in and out of hospitals. The Palace has been open about his feelings of fatigue. It cannot be helped, however, that such news would fuel speculations — especially since the conditions mentioned sound pretty grim: Buerger’s disease, Barrett’s esophagus and gastroesophageal reflux disease are among those mentioned.
Then last month, it was confirmed he was suffering from “myasthenia gravis (a rare condition that causes muscle weakness),” a report says.
Naturally, the opposition would jump in with the possibility of Vice President Leni Robredo replacing him in case Duterte’s health does fail.
Some have even gone as far as to say that in case that happens, international investors would welcome it.
According to one news item, a London-based think tank observed in a report, “Since Duterte took office, approved foreign investments have been much lower than previous years.”
Gareth Leather, Capital Economics senior Asia economist, added, “That is not to say, however, that Duterte’s presidency has been a disaster for the economy. His massive popularity has enabled him to pass reforms that might not have otherwise made it through Congress.”
It is this same immense popularity that is causing ripples of concern when talk goes to the state of his health.
I mean, if someone as strong as he is can suffer physically, assuming it’s from the mammoth troubles of this nation and the daily load and stresses of the job — then who else can carry such a burden without caving in?