In his first public appearance in nearly two weeks, President Rodrigo Duterte dismissed speculations he is sick while assailing a detained senator and taunting critics who allegedly want to see him dead.
Duterte, in yet another curse-laden speech that aired Monday night, maintained that he is well and capable of fulfilling his duties as president.
“When I was gone for a few days, I did that on purpose. I am like that, when you look for me, I tend to act like a child. When you tease me, that’s when I act up,” he said.
He also slammed those who questioned his absence from the public eye and then dared those who want to see him dead to “pray harder.”
Duterte threw choice words at Senator Leila De Lima, one of the vocal critics of his drug war who has been in detention since 2017 on allegations she collected drug money during her stint as Justice secretary.
“If you want me to die early, you must pray harder. Actually, what you intend or what you would like to happen is to see me go. You want me to go and you’re praying for that,” Duterte said.
He also addressed criticisms spurred by videos and photos showing him jogging, golfing, and motorbike-riding, which were posted on social media over the weekend in an apparent bid to quell rumors about his health.
“But if you say that my health is preventing me from exercising the powers of the presidency, I am not sick. That’s why I can still play golf, I can still ride the motorcycle because I can,” Duterte said.
Duterte said there is nothing wrong with enjoying his hobbies in the wee hours, arguing that he is not taking other people’s time.
“The problem is you should look into the time I enjoy my hobbies. I do them at night. If I do them during the day, you will also see something wrong with it,” he said.
The President insisted he had read and signed documents in Malacañang in the last two weeks. His photos and videos elicited criticism since these were taken amid the raging coronavirus pandemic.
Before the address, Duterte has not made any public appearance for almost two weeks, igniting speculations and becoming a trending topic on Twitter over the weekend.
His absence coincided with the two-week return of Metro Manila and four adjacent provinces to the strictest quarantine level, and the latest incident at West Philippine Sea where Chinese ships chased a Filipino vessel.
Duterte’s previous appearance was on 29 March — when he delivered his regular address and welcomed the arrival of anti-coronavirus vaccines from China’s Sinovac Biotech. The President then went unseen during the Holy Week.
Some speculated that Duterte suffered a mild stroke and was taken to a Singapore hospital. Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio’s five-day trip to Singapore last week for “personal health management” added fuel to the rumors.
The issue prompted Duterte’s aides to release photos and videos of him jogging, riding his motorcycle, and playing golf at the Palace grounds.
Among the materials released over the weekend included an undated eight-second video showing President Duterte wearing a mask and a face shield as he jogged briefly.
The Philippine leader was supposed to address the public Wednesday last week but it was postponed in an apparent effort to protect him and other Malacañang staff from Covid-19 after 126 members of the Presidential Security Group contracted coronavirus infections, of which 45 were active cases.
This was not the first time Duterte has disappeared from public view for weeks, and each time made headlines and rekindled talks about his allegedly declining health.
His known ailments include migraines, back problems, and Barrett’s esophagus, which affects the throat. He also has Buerger’s disease, an autoimmune condition that causes blockages in the blood vessels.
The Palace assured the public that the President remained fit and healthy for a 76-year-old, but refused to release his medical bulletin.
“A medical bulletin is only given when the President is sick and he is not sick,” presidential spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque said earlier in the day.
The majority of Filipinos agreed that the state of health of President Duterte is a public matter, a Social Weather Stations (SWS) poll showed Monday.
The survey, conducted from 17 to 20 September last year, found that 65 percent of 1,249 respondents believed that Duterte’s health concerns them, while 32 percent said otherwise.
The percentage of those who believe that Duterte’s health is a public matter is highest in the Visayas at 69 percent, followed by Metro Manila (65 percent) and Balance Luzon, and Mindanao (both at 64 percent).
The Palace said the President does not need to appear before the public to prove that he remains in charge of the pandemic response.
In his press briefing, Roque defended Duterte from criticisms amid his absence from the public eye for two weeks, saying that it was not the Philippine leader’s style to show off his work.
“Your assumption is the President should show proof that he is working. That is not the style of the President. He does not need to boast to the public that he is working,” he told reporters.
“The public believes that the President remains on top of the situation even if he does not show it off… An overwhelming majority of Filipinos know that the President thinks of the nation 24/7,” Roque added.
The official also said the President made decisions for the country even though he has not made an appearance and stayed in Malacañang for two weeks.
“The President made all the decisions he needed to make, particularly on the quarantine classification. He also continually supervised the acquisition of vaccines and made sure that they were rolled out at the soonest time possible,” Roque said.