Duterte tight-lipped about health, but thumbs down medical bulletins

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte again played coy on the subject of his health, refusing to say what caused the "muscle spasms" that forced him to cut his Japan trip short.

He also thumbed down the need for Malacañang to issue medical bulletins on this.

Asked about the status of his back on Monday, October 28, he said: "It requires a lengthy explanation. Actually, muscle spasm must be precipitated by something. A muscle spasm by itself is nothing really. There has to be something which, ayaw ko munang sabihin sa inyo (I don't want to tell you yet). But then again it's connected with the spinal."

In the interview with reporters in Malacañang, he said whatever caused the muscle spasms is not serious enough to require the issuance of medical bulletins.

"No, hindi naman kailangan (it's not necessary). Kung hindi na ako makatindig, sabihin ng asawa ko sa inyo (If I can't get up, my wife will tell you)," said Duterte.

The President tends to take on a lighthearted tone when speaking of his health, a persistent issue in his presidency.

The "muscle spasms" he experienced in Japan last October 22 caused what Malacañang described as "unbearable" and "excruciating" pain and were attributed to a recent motorcycle accident.

Doctor's orders?

Duterte claimed he was advised by his doctor not to speak about his condition.

"Sabi ng doctor, huwag daw ako mag-ingay (The doctor told me not to make a lot of noise)," said Duterte.

"I walk straight as long as there are people watching, but when there are none..." he said in Filipino, repeating his joking tone.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr had previously dismissed the issuance of medical bulletins as unnecessary, claiming Duterte's recent ailments were not serious.

The 1987 Constitution requires that the public be informed if the President acquires a "serious illness." (READ: President's health: Touchy topic for Duterte, public concern for Constitution)

This provision on transparency is a recognition of the public's right to know if the Chief Executive is fully-functioning and capable of governing.

In the middle of his Monday speech, Duterte started coughing repeatedly, prompting him to tell his audience, "I'm sorry, I have this virus, I got it in – because it was so cold in Japan." 

Because of health problems, Duterte has had to skip several official engagements and has been out of the public eye for several weeklong periods.

The President has admitted to a slew of ailments, including previous spinal issues caused by past motorcycle accidents. (READ: LIST: 'Migraine everyday' and Duterte's other ailments) Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

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 pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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