Philippine economy

Duterte allies in Senate downplay medical tests

Camille Elemia
The President is healthy enough to discharge his duties, say Senators Ralph Recto and Koko Pimentel

HEALTHY? Senators say there is nothing to worry about the health of President Duterte. Malacañang Photo

MANILA, Philippines – Senators said there is nothing to worry about President Rodrigo Duterte’s health, as they downplayed his “diagnostic and regular” endoscopy and colonoscopy tests. (READ: Duterte confirms hospital visit: ‘I’ll tell you if it’s cancer’)

Malacañang earlier said doctors had found a “growth” during his endoscopy tests. Duterte had said he would let the public know if he has cancer. (READ: President’s health: Touchy topic for Duterte, public concern for Constitution)

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said it is normal for the 73-year old President to undergo such tests. He also said the government has a rule on succession should something happen to the Chief Executive.

“Oo pagtuntong mo ng 50 (years old) plus kailangan every 5 years or 2 years, yung iba every year. Endoscopy nga [dapat] ako, hindi pa [ginagawa] kasi takot ako,” Sotto said in an interview with radio dwIZ on Saturday, October 6. (Once you reach 50 and above, you have to do it every 5 or 2 years, others even do it every year. I should also undergo endoscopy but I have yet to do that because I’m scared.)

Wala naman (dapat ikabahala) at saka ang gobyerno merong order of succession tapos ang health packages ng mga ospital ang gagaling,” he added. (Nothing to worry about. Besides, the government has an order of succession and hospital’s health packages are excellent.)

Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto shared the same sentiment. He said Malacañang would surely update the public on Duterte’s medical condition “at the appropriate time.”

“Those are regular procedures. I do the same once a year. The President is healthy enough to discharge his duties. Am sure Malacañang will update the public on the President’s medical condition at the appropriate time. Even if the President is found to have a medical condition for as long as he is fit to perform his duties then that’s ok. We should all wish the President well,” Recto said.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, party mate of Duterte, said he always sees the President in good health. The 54-year-old senator said he himself has scheduled endoscopy and colonoscopy tests as part of routine checkup.

“Ako hindi ako worried sa health condition ng pangulo kasi parati ko naman siya nakakaharap. Ang dami dami nyang napupuntahan buong bansa pa. Hindi ko nga kayang sundan ang schedule na yan,” Pimentel said. (Me, I am not worried about the health condition of the President because I always see him. He has visited a lot of places. I can’t even follow his schedule.)

“Ako nga 54 ako naghahanap na ako ng schedule ko sa endoscopy at colonoscopy. Nagagalit na doktor, pero advise talaga ng doktor kailangan na yan when you are more than 50. Then, kung ikaw doktor pasyente mo presidente hindi ba super ingat ka, sasabihin mo ‘Teka, Sir. Titignan nating mabuti.’ Normal lang po ‘yan, kailangan maingat,” he added. (I am just 54, but I’m already setting schedules for my endoscopy and colonoscopy. Doctors really advise the conduct of such tests when you’re above 50 years old. If you’re the doctor of the President, you would be extra careful. You would say: ‘Wait, Sir. Let’s look at it thoroughly.’ It’s normal. They have to be careful.)

Senator Francis Escudero said that the procedures mentioned by the President are diagnostic in nature and are not “findings” or conclusions regarding his state of health.

What the Constitution is referring to as a requirement for public disclosure is his “state of health,” he said.

The 1987 Constitution states that the public must be informed if the President has a “serious illness.” This is because it’s important for the Chief Executive to be physically capable of governing.

What about transparency?

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said Filipinos have the right to know if the President is ill.

Citing the Marcos administration, Drilon recalled that there were persistent rumors about how other people were running the country because of the late dictator’s declining health.

Nakalagay sa ating Saligang Batas na may karapatan ang taumbayan na malaman kung ano ang illness ng pangulo. Inamin naman ng spokesperson na ipapaalam sa taumbayan kung ano lagay,” Drilon said. (The Constitution states that the public has the right to know what the illness of the President is. The Spokespereson also said he would relay the information to the public.)

A recent Social Weather Stations survey showed that 61% of Filipinos believe “President Duterte’s state of health is a public matter that is why the public should be informed of everything about this.”

For the President’s allies, they are sure that Duterte would inform the public of his real health status.

After all, Escudero said, Duterte was candid enough to admit that he underwent tests.

“I think he will be equally candid with respect to the “findings,” if any, and his spokespersons should take the cue from their boss with respect to this issue and not second guess him as regards his candidness and honesty with respect to this and other matters,” Escudero said.

“Sa pagkakakilala ko sa kanya [Duterte], hindi niya itatago yun kapag may nakita sa kanya. Ang nangyari sabi ni Secretary Roque di siya sinabihan kaya nung tinatanong sya di niya alam. Ganun naman talaga ang PSG di naman lahat ng lakad ng Presidente sinasabi. As a matter of fact, tinatago yun saka na lang sasabihin pag tapos na,” Sotto said.

(The way I know him, he would not hide the findings of his tests. Secretary [Harry] Roque said he was not informed of the hospital visit that is why he gave that answer when he was asked. That’s how it really is with the PSG. They do not publicize the travels of the President. As a matter of fact, they hide it and they will just announce it once it is done.)

Pimentel said only serious illnesses should be reported to the public.

“Hindi mo naman dapat iaannounce lahat kaya nga sa batas merong doctor-patient confidentiality rule. Pero obligasyon ng Malacañang to tell the people kung may serious na nararamdaman ang presidente. Pero kung nasira ang tyan ng presidente hindi mo na siguro kelangan iaannounce yan,” Pimentel said. (You should not announce everything. That is why there is a doctor-patient confidentiality rule in our laws. But it is Malacañang’s obligation to tell the people if the President has a serious illness. But if he just has a bummed tummy, there is no need to announce that.)

Senator Francis Pangilinan, for his part, said the problem lies with the credibility of the President’s statements. 

“The problem is we do not know if the President is serious or not. If this is true or simply another remark, he can claim it to be a joke. If he is serious, then full disclosure is required but if not, then it would be best that we stop such talk and focus our time and attention on looking for solutions to the serious problems of spiraling high prices of food, gasoline, and other basic commodities.”

A few days after Duterte’s admission of a hospital visit, he made an unannounced visit to Hong Kong with partner Honeylet Avanceña and daughter Veronica. –

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email