Duterte undergoes colonoscopy, endoscopy

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte revealed that he underwent colonoscopy and endoscopy a week ago but said he remains "healthy."

Duterte made the admission in front of doctors on Friday, September 21, during the 3rd Inflammatory Bowel Disease Clinical Forum of the Asia-Pacific Association of Gastroenterology (APAGE) in Cebu City.

"I had my colonoscopy and endoscopy about a week ago. Joey did the procedure and he said that… Well, I have a bad case of Barrett. He said, if you'll just stop drinking, you will live," Duterte said in a speech.

Duterte was referring to his gastroenterologist Dr Joey Sollano of the University of Santo Tomas. The President said he always recommends Sollano to friends and family members who have digestive problems.

According to Mayo Clinic, endoscopy is a procedure used to examine a person's digestive tract. A long, flexible tube, with a tiny camera, is inserted down a patient's throat and esophagus to examine the esophagus, stomach, and the beginning of the small intestine.

A colonoscopy, meanwhile, is an exam used to detect changes or abnormalities in the large intestine (colon) and rectum.

Barrett's esophagus is a complication of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Smoking is a risk factor. In people with GERD, stomach contents flow backward into the esophagus which is not protected from the acid the stomach produces. 

"Historically, I took after my mother who was always constipated. That was her complaint, but she lived to be 96 years old. So if you want to live forever, pray for constipation," Duterte said in the same event.

Despite this, Duterte said he is in good health.

"Maybe God is sometimes kind. He builds your immunity system that good, because some of them are... I'm 73, and they are still very good, still healthy, no problem," Duterte said.

Other illnesses, issues

Aside from Barrett's esophagus, the 73-year-old Duterte has admitted to a slew of other medical conditions, including Buerger's disease and a spinal injury.

Buerger's disease is a rare condition involving the constriction of blood vessels in the arms and legs, blocking blood flow. This leads to damaged or destroyed skin tissue in the arms and legs, particularly in the hands and feet.

Duterte had said that his bouts with migraine are the aftermath of a motorcycle accident years ago that affected his spine. This condition is what makes him frequently press his finger to his temple.

Duterte said the pain got so serious that he even mulled having an operation but eventually decided against it. He numbs the pain with fentanyl patches, the same kind used by cancer patients. Fentanyl is a highly potent and addictive prescription drug.

"I was only given a fourth of that square thing. There was a time that if I took two. But now no more because – of course, my doctor learned that I was using the whole patch because I felt better. When he knew it, he made me stop and he said, 'Stop it. The first thing that you would lose is your cognitive ability,'" Duterte earlier said.

Transparency about the President's health is enshrined in the 1987 Constitution. Section 12 of Article VII of the Constitution reads:

"In case of serious illness of the President, the public shall be informed of the state of his health. The members of the Cabinet in charge of national security and foreign relations and the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, shall not be denied access to the President during such illness."

Lawmakers have called on the President to release  his medical records and status, to no avail. (READ: President's health: Touchy topic for Duterte, public concern for Constitution– Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

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 camille.elemia@rappler.com