MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – President Rodrigo Duterte skipped the Independence Day ceremony at Rizal Park on Monday, June 12.
Prior to the start of the event, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella approached media to announce Duterte will not be able to attend. He did not give a reason for this and declined questions from the media.
"He won't be able to come this morning... He did not give any reason why," said Abella in Filipino.
This is the first time in recent memory that a Philippine President skipped the Independence Day rites. This was also supposed to be Duterte's first Independence Day as president.
Malacañang earlier released Duterte's message for Independence Day, calling on Filipinos to preserve Philippine sovereignty.
Vice President Leni Robredo led the wreath-laying and flag-raising ceremony with Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano beside her, representing the President.
JUST IN: Vice President Leni Robredo leading Independence Day ceremony at Luneta. Beside her is Foreign Sec. Alan Peter Cayetano. pic.twitter.com/up4eGUTjiF — Pia Ranada (@piaranada) June 11, 2017
This is not the first time Duterte has skipped Independence Day commemoration events as a government official. Last year, as president-elect and Davao City mayor, he did not attend the city's Independence Day event. It was the same case the year before, in 2015.
'Not feeling well'
While Abella surmised that Duterte skipped the ceremony to attend to some pressing matters, Cayetano said he was told the President was not feeling well.
"It's just that he's not feeling well. Puyat na puyat at pagod (He's tired from staying up late), nothing to worry about," Cayetano said during a chance interview after the ceremony.
Cayetano knew as early as 5:30 am that Duterte was not attending the Independence Day ceremony.
"I received a call 5:30 this morning and I talked to his people and inquired, they said, 'No problem, he's okay but tired and doesn't feel that well, so better to rest,'" he said.
From Cayetano's version of events, it seems Duterte was not able to get up from bed on time for the early morning event.
"Hindi siya nagpilit magising kasi napakahirap, 2 to 3 oras lang tulog mo (He didn't force himself to wake up because it must be hard if you only slept for 2 to 3 hours)," said Cayetano.
Duterte was supposed to arrive at 8 am to offer a wreath at the Rizal Monument and lead the raising of the Philippine flag.
Instead, the public watched as Robredo and Cayetano, former rivals in the 2016 vice-presidential race, marched side by side in front of the Rizal Monument to offer a wreath to the country's heroes.
Also present at the ceremony were members of the diplomatic corps, including United States Ambassador Sung Kim and Russian Ambassador Igor Khovaev.
Cabinet officials in attendance included Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.