MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Several senators are demanding full disclosure on President Rodrigo Duterte's health after the Chief Executive went on a 4-day "rest" that fanned rumors about his physical condition.
Detained Senator Leila de Lima called for "transparency and accountability" from Malacañang and said the public must know the "truth" about Duterte's state of health.
"The public needs to be fully informed. Knowing the truth about the President's state of health is both a matter of public interest and national security," De Lima said in a statement from Camp Crame, where she is detained, on Thursday, June 15.
She said the public does not need this kind of uncertainty "at a time when the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) is waging a war against terrorists in Marawi."
"For the past several days, the men and women of our uniformed service have remained in their post, have continued to discharge their solemn duty to defend the Filipino people, and some have even made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. Amidst their continued and constant service, where is the President? Where is our Commander-in-Chief?" she added.
Duterte had been out of the public eye since Monday, June 12, Independence Day. He skipped his first Independence Day celebration and had "rest time" for the next 3 days "due to fatigue" from his "brutal" schedule of going to wakes of soldiers killed in Marawi, and visiting injured government troops.
'Matter of public concern'
Senator Panfilo Lacson said in a statement on Friday, June 16, that the President's health is "a matter of public concern."
"The health of the president of any country is not his or his family's private affair alone. It is a matter of public concern. Having said that, it behooves Malacañang to disclose the current state of health of the President if only to quell any speculation about his health. The public deserves nothing less," Lacson said.
He said the public would "surely understand" the kind of stress the President had been going through, especially in view of the Marawi crisis where government troops are fighting local terrorist groups.
"They will surely understand that PRRD is presently exposed to all kinds of stress and physical exhaustion due to the numerous problems besetting the country, not to mention the sight of our soldiers being transported in coffins by military aircraft with all the grieving families waiting to bring them to their respective provinces. That indeed is very stressful," Lacson said.
Senator Francis Pangilinan said that while he "accepts" the official explanation that the President needed to rest, Malacañang should be transparent about his medical condition, if any.
"While I accept the explanation of Malacañang that he was tired and needed rest, the 4-day absence was a concern considering the current situation. Having said that, if the President has a medical condition preventing him from fulfilling his duties as Commander-in-Chief and is not simply 'just resting' then the public deserves to know the truth," Pangilinan said.
Question of obligation
Citing the 1987 Constitution, De Lima also said it is Malacañang's "moral obligation" to be transparent and accountable to the public about their leader's condition.
Article 7, Section XII states that in case of serious illness of the President, the public shall be informed of the state of his health.
"Of course, Malacañang is well within the constitutional bounds when it refuses to fully inform the public about the President's 'vacation,' but it is also its moral obligation to go beyond what the Constitution requires. This is called transparency and accountability, two words that are already lost to this administration and its senior cabinet officials," the senator said.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III had a different take on the matter. He said Malacañang is only obligated to make a public announcement on the President’s illness if it’s serious.
“If the president is sick with an illness, Malacanang has the obligation to inform the public,” said the senator, a party mate of Duterte.
“If the president is merely resting or doesn't feel well or has slight fever or flu or LBM, There is no need to make a public announcement about that. Since there is no public statement from Malacañang Palace, then that means the cause of the absence of the President from the public eye is a minor one,” Pimentel added.
In separate interviews, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo and Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa said Duterte was "very lively" and "upbeat" when they had separate phone conversations with him during his period of rest.
The President's health was the focus of a media briefing at the Palace on Thursday, Duterte's 4th straight day of rest. This is the longest he has gone without any official activities.
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org