More questions than answers: Roque, Go explain Duterte absence in Palace event

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Malacañang officials gave carefully worded explanations on President Rodrigo Duterte’s mysterious non-appearance at a Palace event, prompting reporters to again raise questions about the state of the Chief Executive’s health.

Duterte’s absence came on the heels of rumors that he went to the Cardinal Santos Medical Center in San Juan City early Wednesday morning, October 3. (READ: President's health: Touchy topic for Duterte, public concern for Constitution)

It was at 4 pm on Wednesday when Duterte was supposed to attend the ceremonial turnover of a P5-billion check from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor).

A few hours after, Malacañang announced the event had pushed through but without Duterte. No immediate explanation was given.

Eventually, Roque told reporters Duterte had "private time."

The next day, at a press conference on Thursday, October 4, the spokesman said, "He (Duterte) decided he wanted to take the day off."

No outright denial of Duterte hospital visit

On Thursday, Special Assistant to the President Bong Go gave a curiously worded statement. He vehemently denied that Duterte was "admitted" to a hospital.

Walang katotohanan na-admit PRRD. Hindi ‘yan totoo 100% po. Itataya ko ang buhay ko diyan, hindi totoo ‘yan (There is no truth that PRRD was admitted. That’s 100% not true. I will bet my life on it, it’s not true)" Go stressed.

In a press conference on Thursday, Roque said there was "absolutely no truth" that Duterte was "hospitalized."

Roque and Go denied Duterte was admitted or hospitalized on Wednesday, but did they deny he visited a hospital? 

The spokesman admitted he had no personal knowledge.

“I assure you that I have no information that he did go to a hospital and I am given information whenever things like this happen,” said Roque.

Told that he did not appear to have personal knowledge on whether or not Duterte visited a hospital, Roque said, “That’s accurate.”

However, he said that based on his "sources," the President "was just in his residence" in Manila on Wednesday, referring to Bahay Pangarap across the Pasig River from the main Palace building.

The night before, Go had also issued a curious statement. While reporters asked him why Duterte skipped the Pagcor event, Go responded by skirting the question and merely assuring them that the President would show up for his events the next day. 

“We will definitely be seeing the President tomorrow as he will be attending many events and will be meeting with different groups in the Palace,” said Go.

Rappler got 3 secondhand accounts that Duterte was indeed at Cardinal Santos Medical Center very early on Wednesday. One source said they spotted presidential guards and vehicles in the San Juan City hospital at around 4:30 am. Another said Duterte was there as early as 3 am.

Cabinet meeting moved

Apparently, the Pagcor event was not the only event that Duterte skipped on Wednesday.

Roque said a scheduled Cabinet meeting was "suddenly moved" because Duterte wanted private time. 

"The President took the day off remember? It (postponement of Cabinet meeting) was announced the day before…. It was a sudden decision to move the Cabinet meeting," said Roque,

Two Cabinet members confirmed to Rappler that there was supposed to be such a meeting on Wednesday but that it was moved to Monday next week, October 8.

They were informed of the postponement on Tuesday evening, or the day before the scheduled meeting.

But one Cabinet member gave a different reason for the moved meeting. Supposedly, it was because many Cabinet members were still abroad. 

A Malacañang source, meanwhile, said all presidential Palace events were canceled on Wednesday, including several meetings.

Another source said some meetings still pushed through, but were held in Bahay Pangarap.

On Thursday, as was the case on Wednesday, all of Duterte's events were classified as not for media coverage. 

As promised, Roque sent reporters a video he took of a "healthy" Duterte arriving at one of his Palace events – the military-police command conference.

Go also shared photos of Duterte meeting with former president Fidel Ramos and MetroBank Award winners.

Malacañang sends these photos to prove #PresidentDuterte up and about today. @rapplerdotcom pic.twitter.com/13WAXky88v — Pia Ranada (@piaranada) October 4, 2018

Need for medical bulletins?

Roque admitted growing "frustrated" with how the media and the President’s critics keep harping on Duterte’s health.

Why then does Malacañang not just issue medical bulletins to dispel rumors once and for all?

Responding to this question, Roque appealed to the public to "trust" Duterte.

“Please trust that if he has a serious ailment, the people will know.... Let’s continue to treat medical records as being confidential," he said.

The right of Filipinos to be informed if the President has a serious illness is enshrined in the 1987 Constitution. 

Section 12 of Article VII 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.”

Ateneo de Manila University political science professor Carmel Abao said there is a reason why the Constitution calls for transparency about the President’s health.

"A president's health is a 'public interest issue' not a private one – a 'national security' issue, as our Constitution puts it. The nation deserves a fully-functioning presidency," she said. – 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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