Take it from Davaoeños: city mayor Rodrigo Duterte also disappeared from the public eye for several days, sometimes for up to a week.
The speculation at the time was that Macho Rody was womanizing. Now that he is President, and because of his age and the controversies that swirled around his candidacy, the speculation is that he is seriously ill.
We can bet that President Duterte prefers the womanizing version. But he told us he was often so exhausted from his job that even when he could get his train, so to speak, to leave the station with some help from Pfizer, remembering the many problems of the nation always made the train retreat back to the station, there to rest for good.
So if it’s not womanizing, it must be a health problem.
President Duterte didn’t look sick when he resurfaced in public the other day. And he was his usual jovial self, telling the media that he was not in a coma but in a kama or bed.
The fatalism also bubbled up again: if he’s dead, he said, there’s a young and healthy vice president who is his constitutional successor, so what’s the problem?
Any person aged 72, he has also said, would be suffering from some illness. In short, his message to the rumormongers was, chill.
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Because the Philippine president holds enormous power, however, any indication of illness on the part of the chief executive can have a destabilizing impact on governance.
This interest in a president’s health became stronger in this country during Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship. People suspected that Ninoy Aquino was ordered assassinated in 1983 by a cabal that planned to get him out of the way to ensure they would take over because Marcos was acutely sick at the time.
Malacañang consistently lied about Marcos’ health, so even Washington had to conduct its own sleuthing. US intelligence later reported that Marcos was suffering from a periodic form of lupus complicated by diabetes.
Lupus is a rare and potentially fatal degenerative illness in which antibodies attack tissues. In Marcos’ case, the kidneys came under attack. The US intelligence reports said he had kidney transplants that were all rejected. At age 68, in his final days in power, his face looked bloated by medication and he often looked teary-eyed.
Marcos’ successor Corazon Aquino, 26 years his junior, had only one health problem that forced her to take time off during her presidency – a bout of vertigo due to Meniere’s Syndrome, a disorder of the inner ear. The illness triggered a slew of jokes, but she recovered.
Fidel Ramos’ stroke due to a blocked carotid artery, which required surgery, also nearly triggered a stroke among those who feared that his vice president Joseph Estrada would take over Malacañang.
Erap himself was the subject of much speculation about his health, from his campaign to his short-lived presidency.
After he won the presidency, there was so much speculation that he wouldn’t last long in office. We ribbed his vice president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, that she should prepare to take over, but GMA the Sphinx refused to be goaded into making any self-incriminatory comment.
Today it looks like Erap’s main problem is simply his bum knees. He still likes to show off in public that he’s enjoying a favorite snack, the full-fat, high-cholesterol chicharon Bisaya.
GMA looked healthy throughout her nine years in power. She was forthcoming about her health: she suffered from fatty liver, she took pills for menopause. The only time she was suspected of lying about her health was when she wanted to be placed under “hospital arrest” during her trial for plunder. But she did suffer from a botched operation in her cervical spine and she later reportedly suffered from hives while under detention. These days she looks perfectly healthy.
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A president’s health – both mental and physical – is considered so important that it is always a campaign issue. Presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino’s psychological fitness for the job was questioned, and the issue persisted throughout his years in power. It was also raised against the late Miriam Defensor-Santiago. Health issues also dogged the presidential bid of Jejomar Binay.
In last year’s presidential race, the harshest criticisms hurled against candidate Duterte concerned his human rights record. It was too late for his rivals to realize that he was in fact using the issue as a campaign platform, promising to kill, kill, kill.
A secondary issue was his health. Duterte blew his top and ranted against a journalist who reported that he was suffering from cancer. Duterte accused the journalist of working as a dirty tricks operator and propagandist for administration candidate Mar Roxas.
After winning the presidency, Du30 and his camp disclosed that he was suffering from Buerger’s Disease, which he might have developed during his days as a smoker, and which can be painful when blood vessels constrict during attacks.
Du30 has also admitted being afflicted with Barrett’s Esophagus, which can develop into cancer of the esophagus if not managed properly. Early detection can kill precancerous cells. This could have given rise to the reports about cancer.
Barrett’s Esophagus can develop in people suffering from long-term GERD or gastro esophageal reflux disease, in which stomach acid rises to the lower esophagus and affects the tissues.
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I know someone with GERD who has difficulty swallowing and talking for several days during attacks. Simple GERD can make a president want to stay out of the public eye and enjoy some “private time” so he can, as described by his spokesman, “rejuvenate.”
But not for an entire week, starting with the Independence Day celebration – especially when a major city is under siege by tenacious terrorists.
Last Saturday Duterte finally emerged from his “rejuvenation” and visited Agusan del Norte, where he urged the nation to be vigilant against terrorism. In Butuan City, he joked about being in a kama and said the state of his health was “irrelevant.” He said he went “somewhere” on a trip incognito.
Since last year Duterte has learned the hard way that Malacañang is not the Davao city hall. He has given up many things since assuming power, starting with his privacy. He groused to us that he was no longer even allowed by his security detail to sleep with the bedroom door locked these days.
Now, in the interest of stability, he may also have to give up enjoying protracted “private time.”